Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stood in federal court to face her would-be assassin on Thursday moments before he was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Giffords, last year.
Jared Loughner, 24, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, received seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, under a plea deal with prosecutors that spares him the death penalty.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said the life sentences he imposed - one for each of the six people who lost their lives and a seventh for the attempted assassination of Giffords - represented the individuality of the victims.
“He will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again,” Burns said.
Giffords suffered a head wound that left her with speech difficulties, a paralyzed right arm, diminished sight and a limp.
Addressing the court along with several survivors of the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting, Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, told Loughner he had failed in his attempt to “extinguish the beauty of life.”
Kelly used the occasion to take a political swipe at Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch gun-rights advocate, criticizing her for speaking out against proposed restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones Loughner used, in the aftermath of the shooting.
“Jan Brewer said it had nothing to do with the size of the magazine. … She said this just one week after you used a high-capacity magazine,” Kelly said, also noting that she named a “state gun” weeks later instead of “fixing the education system.”
Loughner, asked at the outset of the hearing by Burns if he had chosen to waive his right to make a statement, answered in a low voice, “That’s true.”
He was otherwise silent as he sat next to his lawyer, Judy Clarke, gazing expressionless at the survivors who spoke in court during the proceedings. He displayed no visible sign of emotion when he was sentenced.
Giffords stood by her husband’s side, looking impassively at Loughner as Kelly addressed the defendant directly, in a clear, ringing voice. “You may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent in her commitment to make the world a better place,” Kelly told him.
“Although you were mentally ill, you were responsible,” he added. “You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did, but from this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”
Giffords did not speak. She resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recovery.
The proceedings marked a dramatic epilogue to a rampage of gun violence that shocked the nation, reignited a debate over control of firearms and cut short the political career of a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Several survivors of the shooting also gave statements in court, including Giffords’ former congressional aide Ron Barber, who also was wounded.
Barber served out the rest of her term after winning a special election. Barber ran in Tuesday’s election for a newly created U.S. congressional district in Arizona and was running neck-and-neck with Republican Martha McSally, with the outcome hanging on some 80,000 provisional and early votes that have yet to be tallied.
Speaking to Loughner’s parents, Amy and Randy, who were in the audience, Barber said, “Please know that I and my family hold no animosity toward you, and that I can appreciate how devastating the acts of your son were.”
Loughner pleaded guilty in August in federal court to 19 charges, including murder and attempted murder, in connection with the shootings outside a Tucson area supermarket.
He admitted going to a “Congress On Your Corner” event armed with a loaded Glock 19 pistol and 60 additional rounds of ammunition with plans to kill Giffords.
Loughner shot her through the head at close range. Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.
Loughner also admitted shooting the others with the intent to kill.
Court-appointed experts said Loughner suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions. He was determined unfit to stand trial in May 2011 after he disrupted court proceedings and was dragged out of the courtroom.
Loughner later was ruled mentally competent to stand trial after being treated for psychosis at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He then agreed to plead guilty.
Few clues to the motives for the attack have emerged. Prison psychologist Christina Pietz has testified that Loughner had expressed remorse for the rampage and especially for the 9-year-old girl’s death.