Jared Loughner will spend the rest of his life imprisoned — and several victims said at his sentencing today they hope he is well enough to contemplate every day the wounds he inflicted on Jan. 8, 2011.
“Every day he awakes from his sleep, I need him to know where he is and why he’s there,” survivor Patricia Maisch said. “I’m satisfied with the sentence that this young man never is let loose in the public again.”
U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns sentenced Loughner to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years, a sentence he acknowledged is symbolic.
“The consecutive sentence nature of the life sentences I think reflect the individuality of the victims . . . each of those victims was important and made wonderful contributions,” Burns said.
The sentencing will end all criminal cases against Loughner. Pima County Barbara LaWall announced afterward that she will not pursue a case against Loughner under state law.
The reason, she said: Federal prosecutors were able to fashion a case and plea agreement that embraced all the victims, not just the federal employees killed or wounded that day.
"They fashioned a guilty plea that offered a measure of justice for each and every one of the victims, she said.
Ten victims spoke, some of them directing their comments directly to Loughner. Man were emotional, some were compassionate, but none was angrier than Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Kelly walked slowly to the podium in the cavernous courtroom, leading his limping wife.
“Mr. Loughner, for the first and last time, you’re going to hear directly from Gabby and me about what you took away on Jan. 8, 2011, and what you did not. So pay attention,” Kelly said, beginning his statement.
“Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted on all of us. You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did. After today, after this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”
The courtroom was overflowing with perhaps 200 people — survivors of the shootings, the murdered victims’ family members, reporters, U.S. Marshals Service agents, attorneys, politicians and court staff. Many survivors spoke of what they lost that day.
Mary Reed, who was shot shielding her then-17-year-old daughter from Loughner’s bullets, also had her 14-year-old son there.
“That day, Mr. Loughner, not only shot me, he put an end to my children’s childhood,” she said, recounting how they were speaking with Dorwan Stoddard when he was killed and how they held bloody rags against her gunshot back. “No child should have the images, the sounds, the smells of that day, etched into their memory.”
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber spoke to Loughner with measured sympathy for his condition.
“I believe your behavior before the shooting should have alerted others that you needed help,” Barber said. “This should never have happened, and now you must pay the price for the terror, injuries and death you inflicted.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst spoke of each of the shooting victims and spoke directly to Loughner about the deal that led to his life sentence.
“You have been given a gift, whether you know it or not. You could have been facing a prosecution that would mean your death. So you know, almost all the victims you shot, and the family members of those you killed, came to us and said the death penalty is not something they wanted us to seek in this case, because they recognized you were a man with a mental illness that although it didn’t justify what you did, it explained what you did.”
“That had a great bearing on the Attorney General’s decision not to seek the death penalty in this case. Kelly was the only victim who veered significantly into politics, criticizing the reticence of politicians to address firearms laws even after the assassination attempt on his wife.
“We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence as not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.”
Burns, the judge, picked up on that theme, commenting, “I don't understand the social utility of allowing the public to have magazines with 30 bullets in them.”
Burns told victims that he wouldn't use the “25-cent word” closure, but he hopes the sentencing helps them.
“What you get today is resolution. Resolution that I hope at some point will give all of you a chance to have peace in your lives.”