When Jared Loughner appeared in court last month he was quickly declared incompetent and unfit to stand trial. Doctors had spent months coming to the conclusion that the young man who allegedly shot up a parking lot full of supporters of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing six people and seriously wounding Giffords herself, was incapable of understanding the charges against him. But Loughner's outburst shortly after he entered the courtroom led many news reports on the hearing, and likely helped seal the judge's decision to send him back to a federal mental hospital.
At the time, the Arizona Daily Star's Tim Steller reported that Loughner had said to the judge, "Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me." But now that transcripts of the hearing have been released, the content of his outburst is up for new debate. According to the Associated Press, the court transcript has Loughner saying "Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness." But... cheesiness? That doesn't sound right, even coming from a mentally disturbed alleged killer.
After the AP story broke yesterday afternoon, Steller wrote in the Star's Señor Reporter blog, "What I heard was 'You're treasonous!' and I was sure of what I heard, both because I heard it clearly and because it makes sense in the context of Loughner's writings and video ramblings." Steller's colleague Dan Nowicki tweeted a similar sentiment last night: "Eyewitness inside courtroom insists to me that, despite official transcription, Loughner said 'you're treasonous,' not 'your cheesiness.' "
Even before the official transcript dropped, Star reporters debated the accuracy of the Loughner quote amongst themselves. In a May 27 Señor Reporter post, Stellers recalled the confusion:
What I heard Loughner say was this: "Thank you for the free pill. She died in front of me. You're treasonous!"
After Loughner was taken outside the courtroom and a recess was called, reporters from every sort of outlet, CNN to the Tucson Sentinel website, whispered what they heard to each other.
The main questions surrounded the first sentence. Did Loughner say "Thank you for the free pill," which my colleague Josh Brodesky and I heard, or did he say "Thank you for the freak show," which most other people heard? Or was it "Thank you for the free kill?" as one person standing near Loughner heard? Or "Thank you for the free shot?"
Steller also brought up the "treasonous" question back in May: "The third sentence also caused confusion. Some thought Loughner said the word 'changing,' as in 'You're changing it,' or something similar. But I was confident in what I heard: 'You're treasonous!' It also is consistent with some of his writings. So I went with that."
But it's likely that the court reporter responsible for the transcript--there's one in every court transcribing the proceedings for the record--had not studied Loughner's ramblings and writings. When Loughner took the courtroom by surprise by lowering his head to his desk and then suddenly raising up with his outburst, the court reporter was likely as shocked as the rest. To someone who spends their workdays in a courtroom listening to people address a judge, an utterance that sounded like an insulting honorific might be interpreted as just that.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.