In the United States, the legal rule of presumption of innocence has made it customary for the media to refer to all criminals awaiting or undergoing trial to be referred to with the qualifier "alleged". Often this makes sense in cases where the criminal acts might be in question, but sometimes it is a legal technicality. Jared Lee Loughner is the alleged attempted assassin of Gabriel Giffords, a congresswoman from Arizona and the alleged assassin of Judge John Roll, a federal judge that happened to be near Giffords, as well as several other people who were near her at an event.
Although legally Loughner is innocent until proven guilty, the facts of the case are about as open and shut as they can be. What caused the most confusion in the days and weeks after the shooting was the motivations of Loughner. There was some early speculation that Loughner's acts were the part of an organized right-wing terrorist organization, and that he was working as part of a conspiracy. He was originally believed to have an accomplice, who soon turned out to just be an unwitting taxi driver.
In the 21st century, almost everyone has an internet presence that leaves a trail, and Loughner was no exception. Combing over his presence on sites like myspace and youtube, statements made by Loughner, some involving politics and philosophy, gave some hint as to his motivations. He also had a troubled academic record, apparently having been kicked out of community college for being disruptive. News reports of his recommended reading list at first suggested that he had some type of ideological commitment against government, but the words cited as being anti-government --- Animal Farm, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 --- are books that most high school students have read.
One of the biggest discoveries to be made into Loughner's background is that there are no discoveries. He was 22 at the time of his arrest, and had spent his teenage and early college years somewhat aimlessly, and with a string of mental health issues that, while noticeable in hindsight, could have just the type of incidents that many young men have and outgrow.
In May of 2011, four months after his arrest and indictment, Loughner was found incompetent to stand trial, meaning he was not mentally capable of understanding the charges against him, or assisting in his own defense. Two psychiatrists found him suffering from fairly typical symptoms of schizophrenia, and he was ordered to undergo treatment, with another hearing of his competence scheduled for September of 2011. Being found incompetent to stand trial is not the same as entering an insanity plea, but given his history and diagnosis, such a thing seems very liekly. It is also possible that if he can not be treated, he will never come to trial.
While Loughner's alleged crimes are heinous, especially in that a child was killed in the shooting, it is some type of consolation to me, at least, that he was well and truly insane. This has especially come to mind in just the past day or so when I compare Loughner with Anders Breivik, the man captured after a bombing and shooting spree in Norway. Unlike Breivik, who confessed to his crime and appeared to have some notion of what he did, Loughner, just from his appearance, seems to be out of touch with reality. Just looking at his mugshot puts me on edge. While it may be a small consolation, and might sound fatalistic, it is better for me to think of Loughner as simply representing an extreme point on the bell curve of mental illness, rather than someone motivated by actual political ideology.
Although the case won't be closed until at least the end of the trial --- if that ever happens --- it is perhaps the case that we currently know as much about Loughner's mental state and motivations that we will ever be able to know.
The official indictments against Loughner:
The stories in the New York Times
, immediately after Loughner was arrested, and found incompetent to stand trial: