TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, partially blind, her right arm paralyzed and limp, came face to face Thursday with the man who tried to kill her last year, standing beside her husband as he spoke of her struggles to recover from being shot in the head.
“Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered,” said astronaut Mark Kelly, both he and his wife staring at the shooter inside a packed courtroom. “Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at.”
Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was then ordered to serve seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords, outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz.
Loughner pleaded guilty under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He avoids a federal death sentence, although state prosecutors could still decide to try him.
One by one, survivors of the attack at a Giffords political event approached the courtroom podium to address Loughner, each turning toward him where he sat stoic and emotionless at a table with his attorneys.
“You took away my life, my love and my reason for living,” said Mavanell Stoddard, who was shot three times and cradled her dying husband in her arms as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk after shielding her from the spray of bullets.
Susan Hileman, who was shot, spoke to him, at times visibly shaking.
“We’ve been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking,” she said. “Your parents, your schools, your community, they all failed you.
“It’s all true,” Hileman said. “It’s not enough.”
“You pointed a weapon and shot me three times,” she said, staring directly at Loughner. He looked back at her. “And now I will walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I won’t think of you again.”
Loughner’s parents sat nearby, his mother sobbing.
Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the plea deal as a way to move on. It spared them and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and locks up the defendant for life.
Giffords didn’t speak, but stood by Kelly and kissed her husband when he was done. He grabbed her hand and they walked away, her limping.
Earlier, Loughner told Burns that he would not speak at the hearing.
Both sides reached the deal after a judge declared that Loughner was able to understand the charges against him. After the shooting, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
Christina Pietz, the court-appointed psychologist who treated Loughner, had warned that although Loughner was competent to plead guilty, he remained severely mentally ill and his condition could deteriorate under the stress of a trial.
When Loughner first arrived at a Missouri prison facility for treatment, he was convinced Giffords was dead, even though he was shown a video of the shooting. He eventually realized she was alive after he was forcibly medicated.
It’s unknown whether Pima County prosecutors, who have discretion on whether to seek the death penalty against Loughner, will file state charges against him. Stephanie Coronado, a spokeswoman for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, said Wednesday that no decision had been made.
It’s also unclear where Loughner will be sent to serve his federal sentence. He could return to a prison medical facility like the one in Springfield, Mo., where he’s been treated for more than a year. Or he could end up in a prison such as the federal lockup in Florence, Colo., that houses some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.