Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and sunglasses, Jared Loughner, 22, appeared this afternoon in a federal courtroom in Phoenix to answer charges in the Jan. 8 shooting spree. Six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, were killed in the attack, and 13 people were wounded. Among them was Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head but survived.
Security was very tight in the courthouse, with at least eight U.S. marshals on hand, The Associated Press reported.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns asked Clarke whether her client was able to understand the charges.
"We are not raising any issues at this time," said Clarke, whose past clients have included Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski; Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who drowned her two young sons; and Zacarias Moussaoui, a conspirator in the 9/11 terror attacks.
Loughner is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, which alone could earn him a life sentence if convicted. He is also charged with two counts of attempted murder of federal employees, for the wounding of two Giffords aides.
The U.S. attorney's office has said it will seek indictment on federal murder charges for the deaths of the federal judge, John Roll, and another Giffords aide, Gabe Zimmerman. State charges are likely as well for the deaths of other victims.
Loughner's not-guilty plea came as no surprise. There has been much speculation that his attorney will employ an insanity defense, which, if successful, would allow Loughner to avoid the death penalty and serve his sentence in a mental institution, rather than in prison.
"It is very rare for someone to be acquitted by reason of insanity," David Bruck, a clinical law professor at the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, told McClatchy newspapers. "But it is extremely common for people to avoid the death penalty because of their mental illness."
After today's arraignment, the U.S. attorney for Arizona has asked that the federal case against Loughner be transferred back to Tucson, where the shootings took place. Proceedings were originally moved to Phoenix, a two-hour drive away, as all federal judges in Tucson recused themselves because their close colleague, Roll, was among the dead.
All federal judges across the state followed suit, after which Burns -- a San Diego-based federal judge -- was appointed to the case.
There's speculation that the trial eventually could move to Burns' hometown. Loughner's defense lawyer, Clarke, is also based in San Diego.
But for now, Arizona's U.S. attorney wants any hearings moved back to Tucson. A court filing late Sunday argues that it's unfair to ask shooting survivors and witnesses to make the four-hour round-trip drive to Phoenix for each hearing, the AP reported.
Burns did not rule on the prosecutor's request to move the trial. He set a March 9 hearing to consider motions in the case.