Jared Lee Loughner: Death penalty possible, case could be moved out of AZ

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PHOENIX -- The suspect in Saturday's mass shooting in Tucson could face the death penalty if convicted.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, made his first appearance in a Phoenix courtroom Monday afternoon. He remains in federal custody without bond.

At this point, Loughner faces five federal charges -- one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government (Judge John Roll and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staffer Gabe Zimmerman) and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee (staffers Pam Simon and Ron Barber).

A total of 6 people were killed in Saturday's shooting at Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event. Fourteen more, including Giffords, were wounded.

"Strange demeanor"

Witnesses to Monday's proceeding said Loughner appeared to be smirking when he walked into the courtroom.

"When he walked in, there was a difference about this guy," said veteran courtroom artist Maggie Keane. "I felt very creeped out. He had a very strange demeanor about him."

When Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson asked Loughner if he understood that he could get life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of killing Arizona's chief federal judge, Loughner answered, "Yes."

When the proceeding wrapped up, Loughner, who had been quiet and cooperative, was taken away from the courtroom under heavy security.

All of the federal judges in Arizona, including Anderson, have already recused themselves in the case, citing their personal and professional relationships with Roll, the murder victim. An out-of-state judge will likely take over the proceedings.

Dozens of state charges against Loughner are expected out of Pima County. Those charges will relate to the victims who are not government employees. Pima County prosecutors there are trying to determine whether they need to wait until the federal complaint is resolved or if they can move forward now. Prosecutors are not in a hurry to file those state charges because Loughner is already in federal custody.

Death penalty opponent representing Loughner

Well-known federal public defender Judy Clarke will be representing Loughner. Clarke, 58, is no stranger to high-profile cases, having defended Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her toddlers in 1994.

During her 30-year career, Clarke, an opponent of capital punishment, has become known for taking on seemingly impossible cases and getting life sentences where there were initially adamant calls for the death penalty.

“She has stood up to the plate in the kinds of cases that bring the greatest disdain from the public,” Gerald H. Goldstein, a San Antonio lawyer who has known Clarke for years, told The New York Times.

Clarke, who has a private practice with her husband in San Diego, is asking that Loughner's case be moved out of Arizona.

A preliminary hearing for Loughner was scheduled for Jan. 24.