Loughner to spend rest of life in prison

Pleads guilty to 19 federal counts in mass shooting, avoids possible death penalty as Holder signs off
2012-08-08T00:01:00Z 2014-09-05T15:30:08Z Loughner to spend rest of life in prisonKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 08, 2012 12:01 am  • 

Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 at a "Congress on Your Corner" event last year, will be sentenced to seven consecutive no-parole life terms after pleading guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Loughner pleaded guilty to nine murder and attempted-murder counts in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping 30 other counts and forgoing their plan to seek the death penalty for the 23-year-old Tucson resident.

Loughner also pleaded guilty to 10 counts of causing injury to people at a federally sponsored event. Among the specific charges he admitted to was attempted assassination of a Congress member.

In addition to the life sentences, Loughner is facing 140 years when sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns on Nov. 15. Loughner also agreed to pay $19 million in restitution.

Loughner spoke minimally and in a monotone during the 2 1/2-hour hearing, answering, "I plead guilty" to each of the 19 charges and answering, "Yes, I do" and "I understand" when Burns questioned him at length to ensure he understood the terms of the plea agreement.

Loughner said he understood he was giving up his right to assert an insanity defense at a trial and his right to an appeal.

Attorneys have said Loughner's demeanor is a side effect of the medications he is taking.

Loughner's guilty plea, in a courtroom packed with victims, followed an hour-long discussion of his mental-health status.

Forensic psychologist Christina Pietz testified that Loughner was not mentally competent at the time of his arrest on Jan. 8, 2011, the day of the shootings. But after months of being involuntarily medicated and going through a restoration program, he is now competent.

The legal definition of "competent" is having the ability to understand the criminal justice system and assist attorneys in mounting a defense.

Pietz testified Loughner was prescribed antidepressants after his girlfriend broke up with him and his grandfather died in 2006, but there is no evidence he ever had the prescription filled.

Also, although Loughner began exhibiting strange behavior in 2007-2008, he wasn't formally diagnosed with a mental illness - schizophrenia - until after the shooting, Pietz said.

His strange behavior included having an obsession with the U.S. Constitution, saying nonsensical things and disrupting classrooms, Pietz said. There were some indications he may have been having auditory hallucinations as well, she said.

Pietz said Loughner's initial refusal to acknowledge that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords survived his assassination attempt, and his insistence a surveillance video of the shooting was a fake, made her reluctant to declare him competent several months ago. Over time, he acknowledged Giffords survived the gunshot wound to her head, considering it a failure on his part.

"He's disappointed, this is another failure in his life, he set out to do this," said Pietz, describing his thinking as the realization set in that the congresswoman survived.

U.S. Bureau of Prison doctors began medicating Loughner against his attorneys' wishes in June 2011, and by July he began to express remorse for his actions, at one point saying, "I especially cry about the child," Pietz said.

Those killed that day were Christina-Taylor Green, 9; Dorothy "Dot" Morris, 76; U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Phyllis Schneck, 79; Dorwan Stoddard, 76; and Gabriel "Gabe" Zimmerman, 30.

Relatives of the deceased victims, and many of those who survived the shooting, were in the federal courtroom in Tucson on Tuesday.

Loughner's parents, Randy and Ann Loughner, observed from a back row.

Reporters from across the country filled the courtroom and an overflow room.

In recent months, Loughner has been participating in group and recreational therapy and performing menial jobs, Pietz said.

She said she does not believe a medicated Loughner will pose a future danger to others but expressed her concern that Loughner remains suicidal and could fall victim to other inmates.

The judge said Loughner was "tracking" the day's proceedings well and appeared to be assisting his attorneys in his defense, a break from the past.

"He's a different person in his appearance and his affect than the first time I laid eyes on him," Burns said.

The decision not to seek the death penalty and agree to the plea arrangement ultimately fell to Attorney General Eric Holder, Holder said in a news release Tuesday.

"I took into consideration the views of the victims and survivor families, the recommendations of the prosecutors assigned to the case, and the applicable law," Holder said.

The shooting, at which Loughner opened fire outside a Tucson supermarket with a Glock 9 mm, shocked the nation. Giffords, who organized the "Congress on Your Corner" event, was Loughner's main target.

Although she survived, she resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recovery. Ron Barber, who also was shot, was elected to replace his former boss in the House.

Before Tuesday's hearing, Giffords said in a statement that she is satisfied with the plea agreement and hopes it will allow victims to move ahead with their lives.

In a joint statement released with her husband, Mark Kelly, Giffords said, "The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011, are incalculable."

"Avoiding a trial will allow us - and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community - to continue with our recovery," the statement said.

Suzi Hileman, who had accompanied 9-year-old Christina-Taylor to the event and was wounded in the attack, said nothing would return her life to what it was before the shooting.

"It's not a perfect solution. The perfect solution isn't one that we can have," Hileman said. "What we want is not available. This is the best that can be expected. We can't bring Christina back."

No decision yet on state charges

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall once said she would seek charges in state court against Jared Lee Loughner. However, Amelia Craig Cramer, chief deputy Pima County attorney, said Tuesday that no formal decision will be made until after Loughner's sentencing in federal court, which is scheduled for Nov. 15.

This report includes information from The Associated Press. Contact Star reporter Kim Smith at kimsmith@azstarnet.com or 573-4241.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...

We provide safe and secure storage services at a budget friendly rate.

We provide storage space in our warehouse and distribution fac…

Get weekly ads via e-mail