THE 22-year-old loner accused of trying to assassinate US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others appeared in court yesterday with his head shaved, a cut above the right temple and his hands cuffed.
Jared Loughner faces charges of attempting to assassinate Ms Giffords and murdering US district judge John Roll in a shooting spree that claimed six lives and wounded at least 13 others outside an Arizona supermarket.
The shootings have dominated news in the US, prompting outrage and sparking debate over gun control and whether heated political rhetoric fueled the incident.
Before the hearing began, Loughner's court-appointed attorney Judy Clarke whispered to the defendant, who only spoke to say "yes", when the judge asked if he understood that he could face life in prison.
Mr Loughner (22) was returned to federal custody after the hearing without entering a plea.
He is also accused of killing Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Ms Giffords' staff and of attempting to kill two other members of Ms Giffords' staff.
Federal prosecutors said they were drafting an indictment against Mr Loughner for presentation to the grand jury. "We do not yet have all the answers," FBI director Robert Mueller told reporters yesterday.
Mr Loughner is scheduled to return to court January 24 to enter a plea.
The court appearance came as well-wishers gathered at a makeshift shrine of candles and teddy bears outside the University Medical Centre in Tucson, Arizona, where the Democratic congresswoman clung to life yesterday.
Inside, Ms Giffords (40) remained in intensive care after being shot through the left side of the head at point-blank range on Saturday.
Doctors treating Ms Giffords said that she was responding to commands.
The doctors said Ms Giffords was "holding her own" and they were increasingly optimistic she could make a full recovery. Chief neurosurgeon Michael Lemole said her brain had stopped swelling, which was a key concern.
He said: "That's why we're much, much more optimistic, and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief after the third day. We're not out of the woods yet."
US President Barack Obama yesterday led a minute of silence across the country.
Mr Obama and his wife Michelle emerged from the White House and stood on the South Lawn with their heads bowed, along with 200 staff, to the sound of a bell ringing.
At the US Capitol, flags were at half-mast as politicians gathered to pay tribute. The New York Stock Exchange and the United Nations Security Council also fell silent.
Ms Giffords' husband, Nasa astronaut Mark Kelly, was at her bedside last night.
In a statement, he said: "We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the people of Arizona and this great nation for their outpouring of support."
Ms Giffords' second cousin, the Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow, also issued a statement.
"Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting Congresswoman Giffords, my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family," Paltrow said.
Military officials confirmed that Mr Loughner was rejected from the US army in 2008 because he had failed a drugs test.
It also emerged that he stopped shooting only when several people, including retired army colonel Bill Badger (74) and Patricia Maisch (61), jumped on him and grabbed his gun and magazine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)