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Judge orders hearing on accused Tucson shooter's competency

Handout photo of Jared Loughner, suspected gunman in the shooting of U.S. Representative Giffords in Tucson
Handout photo of Jared Loughner, suspected gunman in the shooting of U.S. Representative Giffords in Tucson

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A federal judge ordered a hearing for Monday to discuss giving prison doctors more time to make accused Tucson mass shooter Jared Loughner mentally fit to stand trial, and indicated he was inclined to extend his stay in hospital.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said in court papers on Thursday that he would review Loughner's confinement in a Missouri prison facility with federal prosecutors and defense attorneys at a Monday hearing in San Diego.

Loughner, who will not be present at the hearing, is accused of opening fire outside a grocery store in a 2011 shooting spree that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

He has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal charges, including multiple counts of first-degree murder, and was declared mentally incompetent at a hearing last May.

The 23-year-old college dropout is being treated for schizophrenia at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri. His time in the facility is set to expire next week.

Burns said he was inclined to extend the stay by four months based on a report by his prison psychologist that Loughner has made "measurable progress toward competency" and that his mental capacity would continue to improve.

In September, Burns ordered Loughner to receive four more months of treatment at the prison facility. Prosecutors had sought an eight-month extension.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, has been receiving intensive rehabilitation therapy for a gunshot wound to the head. Last month she resigned from office to focus on her recovery.

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston)

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