The man behind the 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson that left six dead and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Giffords hugged her husband as U.S. District Judge Larry Burns read the sentence of seven life terms—one for each death and one for the attempt on Giffords' life— plus 140 years, while Jared Loughner showed little response. He had previously agreed to the sentence in a deal that spared him from a federal death penalty.
The sentencing hearing was the first time Giffords came face to face with the man who tried to kill her. She chose not to speak.
Giffords' astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, did all the talking for her, as the couple told Loughner how the 24-year-old's deadly rampage at the former congresswoman's political meeting outside a grocery store in Tucson had upended her life.
"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," Kelly said at Loughner's sentencing. "Every day is a continuous stuggle to do those things she once was so good at."
Loughner showed no emotion, and looked at the other victims from the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting. His mother sobbed nearby.
"Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place," Kelly said.
Giffords kissed Kelly when he was done. He grabbed her hand and they walked away, with her limping.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said after the sentencing that "life in prison without the possibility of release - means Jared Loughner will never again be free to hurt or menace the American public." He added in a statement that, "for the victims, their families, and the larger community impacted by this tragic event in our nation's history, it is my sincere hope that this conclusion will help in their journey toward physical and emotional recovery."
Loughner pleaded guilty three months ago to 19 federal charges under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. The deal called for the dismissal of 30 other charges and a sentence of seven consecutive life terms, followed by 140 years in prison.
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.
At the hearing, Loughner, who wore dress pants and a dark brown shirt with a tie, heard from his victims.
"We've been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking," said Suzi Hileman, at times visibly shaking, to Loughner. "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 walked out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I won't think of you again."
Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the plea deal as a way to move on. It spared victims and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and locks up the defendant for life.
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.
Pima County prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty per a plea agreement. Stephanie Coronado, a spokeswoman for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, said Wednesday that no decision had been made.
It's 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.