Wed, Jan 12, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Suspected Arizona gunman in court as Obama leads nation in mourning

SILENCE:US President Barack Obama led the nation in a minute of silence on Monday, while the accused gunman said very little during his hearing in Phoenix

AFP and The Guardian, PHOENIX, Arizona AND WASHINGTON

The man accused of trying to assassinate a congresswoman in an Arizona shooting spree that left six dead appeared in court on Monday, but said nothing to shed light on his motive.

US President Barack Obama led Americans in a somber minute of silence to honor the 20 people shot in Tucson, where he will attend a memorial service today, the White House announced.

Flags were at half-staff at the Capitol in Washington, where hundreds of aides and lawmakers crammed the storied steps of Congress to pay silent tribute to the victims, including one of their own.

Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, 40, was shot through the head at point-blank range before the gunman sprayed a crowd of constituents with bullets, a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge among six who died.

Jared Loughner, who faces the death penalty, appeared, his head shaven, amid tight security around the federal court in the Arizona state capital Phoenix.

Wearing a brown prison jumpsuit for the less-than-15-minute hearing, 22-year-old Loughner appeared to follow proceedings closely, but said little beyond answering “Yes” to basic questions from Judge Michael Anderson.

The judge agreed to his request to have Judy Clarke — who represented the Unabomber, an anarchist serving life without parole for a 20-year mail bombing spree, and Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui — as his attorney.

No plea of guilty or not guilty was entered during the hearing and a preliminary court appearance was scheduled for Jan. 24. A mug shot released by police showed the gunman with a haunting smile.

Doctors, meanwhile, said Giffords was still responding to basic commands such as squeezing medics’ fingers, fueling growing hope for her recovery, though she remains in critical condition.

Authorities said Loughner, a troubled young man booted out of a community college last year, fired a full clip of 31 shots.

He was reloading another clip into his 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol when bystanders, including a 74-year-old retired colonel whose head had just been grazed by a bullet, brought him to the ground.

Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of those who tackled the gunman, including a young Giffords aide and a woman who helped disarm him.

PALIN’S STAR FADES

Former US vice presidential candidate and Tea Party darling Sarah Palin’s hopes of being the Republican nominee to take on Obama next year are suffering from the fallout from the Arizona shooting, under criticism from both left and right.

Although there is no direct line from Palin to the suspect, the reality is that she is being damaged by the repeated TV showings of her having targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords using a rifle crosshairs image on her Web site. The footage also shows Giffords warning Palin that her use of such violent imagery would have “consequences.”

Palin’s chances of announcing a run for the White House dived over the last 48 hours on Intrade, the politically neutral online trade/betting exchange, dropping from about 75 percent to about 60 percent.

“The long and the short is she is damaged,” University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said yesterday. “This is obvious even to the base. I do not think other Republican candidates will use it against her. They do not have to because there will be so much commentary. She has identified herself with the most strident elements of the party.”

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