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Federal officials defend forcible medication of Jared Lee Loughner

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Federal officials Friday defended the forced medication of Jared Lee Loughner, saying the Tucson shooting defendant’s “mental and physical condition rapidly deteriorated” to a life-threatening point in recent days.

The filing was in response to an emergency motion Thursday by Loughner’s attorneys who claimed forced medication of their client violated an earlier court order to stop such treatment.

Loughner is accused in the Jan. 8 Tucson shooting spree that killed six and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson.

In papers filed late Friday afternoon, prosecutors said a “psychiatric emergency” existed that justified the decision by officials at the federal prison in Springfield, Mo., to medicate Loughner against his will.

The government described a depressed and hopeless Loughner who said the radio was “talking to him and inserting thoughts into his mind.” He was put on suicide watch and, when he refused medication, medicated against his will.

His attorneys argued in early July that the prison should not medicate Loughner forcibly, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ordering a halt to the treatment on July 12.

But on July 13, Loughner told Dr. Christina Pietz, his primary clinician at the federal prison, that he wanted to die, telling her “give me the injection, kill me now,” according to court documents. She said he spoke of the killings and the possibility of receiving the death penalty, and sobbed uncontrollably for almost an hour.

The next day he appeared disoriented and confused. He was seen pacing and sobbing, and stopped eating and sleeping. He was kept on suicide watch as he displayed behaviors that showed an “inability to cope with grief, stress, and severe anxiety,” Pietz wrote.

Despite the staff’s best efforts, Loughner’s “mental health continued to deteriorate,” Pietz was quoted as saying in Friday’s filing.

On July 18, with an emergency medication justification report, Loughner’s treating psychiatrist and a second psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Sarrazin and Dr. James Wolfson, began giving him a twice-daily, 1 milligram dose of the antipsychotic risperidone.

Federal officials argued Friday that the Bureau of Prisons action was “appropriate and legal” and went on to add that the prison doctors are experts who are “legally and ethically bound to act in the defendant’s medical best interests.”

Defense attorneys were denied a request for daily reports of Loughner’s medical administrations, but repeated that request in their Thursday filing, which also sought to halt the treatments.

Federal officials Friday called the records request “inappropriate, unwarranted and unworkable.”

Defense attorneys were not available for comment Friday.

Susan Gelmis, supervising motions attorney for the appeals court, said oral arguments would be “unlikely” on this issue at this point. She noted that she is on-call this weekend to docket any orders that the court might issue in the case.