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Defending Jared Lee Loughner: Will an insanity plea work?

If Jared Lee Loughner's defense attorney, Judy Clarke, decides on an insanity plea, many experts believe it will fail. The burden of proof that the defense bears in such cases has grown in recent years.

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No sooner had Jared Lee Loughner appeared in federal court on Jan. 9 to be charged with the attempted assassination a day earlier of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson than speculation began to swirl about the nature of his defense. Would he plead not guilty by reason of insanity? And how strong would his case be?

Photographs of the smirking suspect with his head freshly shaved, reports of his angry and at times incoherent postings on the Internet, and the accounts of former classmates and longtime friends all fed the notion that Mr. Loughner was, in layman’s terms, unstable and possibly deeply disturbed.

At the same time, as investigators retraced Loughner’s steps before the shooting – which gravely wounded Ms. Giffords and claimed the lives of six others –a narrative emerged indicating that the 22 year old had methodically and deliberately planned the attack.

On Wednesday a federal grand jury officially indicted Loughner for the attempted assassination of Giffords and two of her aides. Further federal and state charges likely are forthcoming. He has already been charged with the murder of a federal judge, a capital offense.

As the charges multiply, legal analysts are expecting an extended spotlight on the issue of the insanity defense, which, they say, will be extremely difficult to mount successfully.

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