Former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords was on hand in a Tucson courtroom on Thursday to confront her assailant, Jared Lee Loughner, as a judge sentenced him to seven life sentences, plus 140 years’ imprisonment, for the January 2011 rampage that killed six and critically wounded the Congresswoman.
In passing down his sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns told the courtroom that Loughner was not insane and knew what he was doing the day he decided to go on a murderous spree. “Facts indicated he traveled there with the purpose of shooting Giffords and others and planned ahead,” Burns said. “He will never have an opportunity to pick up a gun again.”
Burns sentenced Loughner to six life sentences for each death, plus one for the attempted murder of Giffords. “This sentence provides no illusions of closure for victims,” he said. “Instead, what you get today is resolution.”
Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly gave remarks on her behalf, telling Loughner, “You may have put a bullet through her head, but you have not put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place.” He was allowed several minutes to relate how their lives had been changed by the shooting, but he vowed to move forward: “After this moment, know this. Gabby and I are done thinking about you.” After Kelly finished speaking, Giffords kissed his hand and hugged him.
Emotional but unwavering survivors and relatives of Loughner’s victims began arriving at the courtroom hours before the sentencing began. According to reports from journalists in the courtroom, they expressed anger at both Loughner and the health infrastructure that they felt should have prevented the massacre. “You took my precious husband and ruined my whole life,” said Mavanell Stoddard, whose husband Dorwin was killed in the hail of gunfire. “He died saving me. I forgive you. I don’t hate you. I hate the act you performed.”
Patricia Maisch, who helped subdue the gunman after he opened fire, was equally emotional. “That beautiful day, our mental health system failed us,” she said. “For six, that failure was devastating and unimaginable.”
Loughner, who sat motionless throughout the hearing, pleaded guilty to shooting the 42-year-old Congresswoman in August, striking a deal that would keep him off death row. In addition to shooting Giffords, the community-college dropout also shot and killed federal judge John M. Roll, a capital offense. Loughner’s agreement was set after it was determined that he was competent to make the plea before the court. In the deal, Loughner admitted to 19 federal charges, while 30 others were dismissed. As a condition of the deal, he will not face the death penalty.
Experts handling his case have concluded that Loughner, 24, is schizophrenic; he has been kept on psychotropic drugs for more than a year. However, forensic psychologist Christina Pietz determined that her patient knew his circumstances, understood what he had done and knows the consequences of his actions. She said at his plea hearing that she did not fear that he would harm anyone in prison as long as he is given his medication.
Giffords and others accepted the plea at the time as a way of avoiding a lengthy trial that would be painful for survivors and victims and their families. “The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011, are incalculable,” Giffords said in a joint statement with her husband in August. “Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery.”
Having served since 2007, Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event in the parking lot of a Tucson supermarket. Loughner, who took a cab to the site, walked up to her with a Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol that he had legally purchased and opened fire at near point-blank range, striking her in the head. He then turned and fired 30 more rounds into the crowd. In the seconds before he could be subdued, he shot 19 people, six fatally. His youngest victim was 9-year-old Christina Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001 and had a budding interest in politics.
Bystanders who realized that Loughner’s clip was emptying smashed him with a folding chair, then grabbed his hand and subdued him until police arrived. Giffords was rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery. She survived but suffered serious neurological damage and was required to undergo intense physical therapy, as she could not stand, walk or talk for weeks. She resigned her congressional seat in January, a year after the shooting. She now suffers paralysis in her right arm, is partially blind and has trouble speaking.
Loughner, who first showed signs of schizophrenia as a teen after dropping out of the Mountain View High School band and taking up drug use, is said to have had delusions about being a victim of government mind control and having the power to fly. A friend told Mother Jones magazine that after a question of his was ignored at a public meeting in 2007, he developed a grudge against Giffords.
He became physically fit so that he could join the Army, but at a Phoenix recruitment facility, he admitted on a questionnaire that he smoked a heavy amount of marijuana, precluding his ability to be inducted. After a series of strange outbursts at Pima Community College in Tucson that startled students and staff, he was dismissed from the school and told he could not return without certification that he was mentally stable. He never returned.
Not long after, he purchased the weapon he used in the shooting from a Tucson gun dealer in late November 2010. The firearm typically retails for about $500 without ammunition or magazines. He passed an FBI background check before he was allowed to buy the gun.
At the hearing, Judge Burns acknowledged Loughner’s parents’ attempts to deal with his mental disorders, saying, “He had a normal life until about 16. His parents made a clear attempt to help him.” Randy and Amy Loughner wept as the judge passed down the lengthy sentence. Burns said Loughner understands his crime and has shown remorse and that he must remain on medication for the rest of his life. Loughner, who showed little emotion except for when Kelly was speaking, declined to speak at the hearing. Without looking back at his parents, he was led away by court officers to begin his sentence.