An attorney for Jared Lee Loughner has been seeking birth and death records for Loughner's extended family, going all the way back to 1893.

Attorney Reuben Camper Cahn, who along with Judy Clarke has been leading Loughner's defense in the Tucson shooting spree, issued 22 subpoenas to the Illinois division of vital statistics on July 8. Each subpoena requested a birth certificate or death certificate for people who are apparently members of Loughner's extended family.

The earliest record Camper sought was an 1893 birth certificate belonging to a woman who apparently was Loughner's great-grandmother Lois Johnson Totman.

The subpoenas emerged in a Thursday filing by federal prosecutors, who complained that Loughner's defense is not following the court's rules for issuing subpoenas. They asked a judge to make the defense follow the rules.

Cahn did not explain in the subpoenas why he wanted the birth and death certificates, and Cahn did not return a call Friday seeking an explanation. However, Tucson attorneys interviewed for this story agreed it is likely Cahn is looking for evidence of mental illness in Loughner's family history.

That could be useful in an insanity defense, in future competency hearings or in mitigating Loughner's possible sentence, said Sean Chapman, a Tucson criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Chapman is not involved in the Loughner case.

"I would suspect they're doing a social history of him and looking to see if he has a family history of mental illness," Chapman said.

In potential death-penalty cases like Loughner's, Chapman said, one of the defendant's appointed attorneys specializes in developing so-called "mitigating" information.

Among those whose birth certificates the defense is seeking is Judy Wackt, whom the Washington Post identified in a Jan. 13 article as a first cousin of Loughner's mother, Amy. Wackt told the Post:

"There's a history in the family of what they used to call manic depression, which I guess they now call bipolar disorder. My mother battled depression. One of her sisters had extreme bouts. She'd be OK, then she'd dissolve over time. Wouldn't leave the house. Wouldn't bathe. Wouldn't interact with her husband or children."

Researchers have found that mental illness runs in families, and the closer the relative who has had a mental illness, the more likely a person is to inherit it. Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was found incompetent to stand trial May 25.

Loughner is charged with 49 crimes in the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that left six dead and 13 injured, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 520-807-8427 or