Jared Lee Loughner on Tuesday pleaded guilty to the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 13 others including former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The guilty plea was part of an agreement that prevents him from facing the death penalty.
With defense attorney Judy Clarke at his side, Loughner, wearing a khaki jail uniform, calmly answered questions from U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns, saying that he understood the court rules and that he would plead guilty to 19 of the counts against him, with the other 30 counts to be dropped. Asked if he understood each charge as they were read, Loughner simply replied, “Yes, sir.”
The verdict came on Tuesday after Burns was convinced that Loughner, 23, was competent to enter a plea and could understand the court proceedings, what he was accused of and the ramifications of his actions. The plea, following Loughner’s long-anticipated competency hearing, forgoes what was expected to be a lengthy trial that would have been draining on survivors and victims’ family members, many of whom attended the proceedings. While Loughner’s sentencing won’t be held until Nov. 15, he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, serving multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole.
In court, he admitted to murdering a federal employee, attempted murder and causing death at a federally protected activity. “There’s no question in my mind Loughner understands what’s going on today,” Burns told the court.
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Loughner, who dropped out of a community college he attended for five years, has been held in a medical facility in Missouri since the shooting and was flown on Monday to Tucson to appear at the hearing. Experts have concluded that he suffers from schizophrenia, and they’ve kept him on psychotropic drugs for more than a year. The hearing, which began at 11 a.m. local time, started with testimony from Dr. Christina Pietz — a forensic psychologist who has been treating Loughner — who told the court that she felt Loughner was competent to stand trial. If he were sent to the general population in prison, she said, she has no concern that he would harm anyone else as long as he is given his medication.
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“My concern is someone will harm him,” she said. Pietz also testified that Loughner has a rational understanding of the proceedings and that he knows he will never leave prison.
On Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner opened fire with a legally purchased semiautomatic pistol on a crowd gathered to hear Giffords speak at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in the parking lot of a Tucson supermarket. Before bystanders tackled and disarmed him, he managed to kill six people — among them U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman — and wound 13 others, including Giffords, who suffered a serious brain injury. Loughner was later charged with 49 counts of murder and attempted murder. The shooting deaths of Roll and Zimmerman would have made him eligible for the death penalty, had he not entered the plea deal.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Giffords supported the plea deal. “The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011, are incalculable,” Giffords said in a joint statement with her husband Mark Kelly. “Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery.”