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updated: 8/4/2012 11:09 PM

AP source: Suspect would get life in Congresswoman's shooting

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By Pete Yost
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- A possible plea deal in the deadly Tucson shootings that wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords would send the man charged to prison for the rest of his life, a person familiar with the case said Saturday.

A court-appointed psychiatrist will testify Tuesday that Jared Lee Loughner is competent to enter a plea in the shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 13, including Giffords, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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A status conference in the federal case had already been scheduled for Tuesday in Tucson.

The person, speaking about upcoming events in the case, said the plan is for the defense to enter a guilty plea in the murders and attempted murders. The plan is contingent on the judge in the case allowing the plea.

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier Saturday that the defense was set to change the plea.

Bill Solomon, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said he could not comment on the case and the possibility of a guilty plea.

The Pima County attorney's office, which has said it could also pursue state prosecution of in the shootings, declined to comment, said spokeswoman Isabel Burruel Smutzer.

The 23-year-old Arizona man had pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents.

Authorities said he shot Giffords, opened fire on the crowd and was subdued by bystanders. Giffords was shot in the head and subsequently left Congress to devote her time to rehabilitation.

Giffords and her husband were traveling in Europe, and spokeswoman Hayley Zachary said Saturday she had no information on developments in the case.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat who was elected in June to replace Giffords in Congress after she resigned, also was wounded in the shooting. A spokesman for Barber did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled previously that Loughner isn't psychologically fit to stand trial, but that he could eventually be made ready for trial after treatment.

Experts have concluded that he suffers from schizophrenia, and prison officials in Missouri have forcibly medicated him with psychotropic drugs.

Even though psychologists have said his condition is improving, his lawyers have vigorously fought the government's efforts to medicate him.

At one point, a federal appeals court halted the forced medication, but resumed it once mental health experts at the prison concluded that his condition was deteriorating further.

He was removed from a May 25, 2011, court hearing when he lowered his head to within inches of the courtroom table, then lifted his head and began a loud and angry rant.

His psychologist has said that since he has been forcibly medicated, his condition has improved. He sat still and expressionless for seven hours at a hearing in September 2011.

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