PHOENIX — A U.S. appeals court granted a stay Tuesday temporarily blocking Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Loughner's return to a Missouri prison hospital for more psychiatric treatment.
The stay will remain in effect while the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviews a defense plea challenging a court ruling last week giving prison doctors four more months to restore Loughner's mental competency so he can stand trial.
The 23-year-old Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal charges, including first-degree murder, stemming from a January shooting spree that killed six people and wounded 13 others, among them Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The Arizona Democrat, who was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket at the time, was shot through the head and is recovering.
The three-judge appellate panel that granted the stay said it would hear oral arguments on the defense plea by Saturday. The arguments will be presented by telephone conference call, the panel said in its two-page order.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns declared Loughner mentally incompetent on May 25, citing the conclusions of two medical experts that he suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.
Last Wednesday, he granted a prosecution request for additional time to restore Loughner's fitness for trial. The defense is seeking to overturn that decision, calling it "legally erroneous."
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