Gabrielle Giffords stood next to husband Mark E. Kelly in a packed Arizona courtroom today to watch as her shooter, 24 year-old Jared Loughner was formally sentenced. Loughner entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in August which took the death penalty off the table in order to avoid lengthy trials, but also guaranteed he would never be paroled from prison, according to ABC News. This was the first time Giffords came face to face with the man who shot her in the head.
In January of 2011 Jared Loughner opened fire on a crowd attending a meet-and-greet for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson supermarket, killing six and injuring 13 others. The fatalities included a 9 year-old girl and a federal judge.
Today, Jared Loughner was then sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the shooting rampage. His deal allows him to avoid a federal death sentence, and local prosecutors said Thursday they wouldn’t seek state charges either.
Giffords, left partially blind, and paralyzed in her right arm and walking with a noticeable limp, did not speak but stood next to her husband as he spoke directly at Mr. Loughner. “Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered”, he exclaimed.
Astronaut Mark Kelly told Loughner and the courtroom that every day is a continuous struggle for Gabby to do the things she once was so good at. He said, “You may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent on her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place”, according to The N.Y. Times.
“After today, after this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you,” Kelly said. With that Mark Kelly was done and he and wife Giffords walked away. One by one other victims and family members of victims took to the podium to address the convicted murderer with their impact statements.
Loughner’s mental competence became an immediate issue shortly after the shootings, as YouTube uploads seemed to show an unraveling young man as he recorded himself ranting and acting bizarrely on his former college campus. Loughner was declared incompetent to stand trial initially after an outburst in court, followed by medical evaluation.
CBS News previously reported that after being treated for over a year at a federal prison hospital for mental illness in Missouri, he was diagnosed with depression and paranoid schizophrenia. Forcibly medicated, Loughner was brought before the same Judge Larry Burns in order to reevaluate his legal mental condition.
After finding him competent, the plea deal was agreed to in August. Additionally, the original 49 criminal counts shrunk to 19 under the agreement. The counts included murder, attempted murder, and attempted assassination of Giffords.
Dr. Christina Pietz, a psychologist treating Jared Loughner, said that over time he has become cognizant of his actions. At the August hearing she testified that Mr. Loughner’s feelings had changed from regret for not succeeding in killing Ms. Giffords, to remorse for wounding her and others and for the victims who lost their lives.
“I especially cried for the child” and “yelled a lot because it hurt so bad”, Mr. Loughner told Dr. Pietz, in testimony that she read to the court from notes she had kept of their meetings.
It’s unclear at this time where Jared Loughner will serve out his life sentences.