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Updated Nov 8, 2012, 5:18 pm Originally posted Nov 8, 2012, 2:19 pm
Jared Loughner, the gunman who pleaded guilty to the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Several victims said at his sentencing hearing Thursday morning that he should spend his time remembering his crimes. Among those who spoke was Mark Kelly, who stood with his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, in the center of the courtroom as he addressed Loughner.
"Mr. Loughner, for the first and last time, you’re going to hear directly from Gabby and me about what you took away on Jan. 8, 2011, and what you did not. So pay attention," Kelly said, facing the gunman.
"That bright and chilly Saturday morning, you killed six innocent people. Daughters and sons. Mothers and fathers. Grandparents and friends. They were devoted to their families, their communities, their places of worship."
"Gabby would trade her own life to bring back any one of those you killed on that day," he said.
"Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted on all of us. You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did," he said.
"After today, after this moment, here and now, Gabby and I are done thinking about you," Kelly ended.
At the hearing, ten victims of the shooting rampage addressed the court. Some spoke directly to Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 others in an attempt to assassinate then-U.S. Rep. Giffords.
'You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But know this, and remember it always: you failed.'
"You tried and failed to murder her," a visibly angry Kelly told Loughner. Giffords, standing at his side, kept her eyes fixed on the gunman. She had not seen him since he shot her through the head nearly two years ago.
"You sought to extinguish the beauty of life, to diminish potential, to strain love, to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But know this, and remember it always: you failed," Kelly said.
Loughner was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms, plus 140 years in prison. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall announced after the hearing that she will not bring local charges against Loughner, at the request of the victims and their families.
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The "astronomical" federal punishment is symbolic of the many victims of the shootings, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said as he imposed the sentence.
"The consecutive sentence nature of the life sentences I think reflect the individuality of the victims," Burns said. "Each of those victims was important."
"The appropriate measure for justice is that he spend the rest of his life in custody."
Burns said that the sentencing changes little for the victims and their families.
"I don't have any illusions about closure here," he said from the bench. The victims "are not going to have closure.... (which is) a 25-cent word we use to make everybody feel good."
"What you get today is resolution," Burns told the victims before he imposed the sentence. "A resolution that I hope will lead all of you to at some point to at least find some peace in your lives."
While Loughner's sentence was a foregone conclusion—he pleaded guilty in August as part of a plea bargain that avoided a possible death penalty—the two-hour hearing gave survivors and their families a chance to speak.
"Every day he awakes from his sleep, I need him to know where he is and why he's there," Patricia Maisch told the court.
"I'm satisfied with the sentence that this young man never is let loose in the public again," she said.
Giffords, who along with Kelly had not attended any previous hearings in the case, sat up in her seat in the middle of the gallery, listening intently with her eyes scanning the room.
She did not address the court during the hearing.
Giffords wore an arm brace and walked slowly.
"Gabby struggles to walk. Her right arm is paralyzed. She is partially blind. Gabby works harder in one minute of an hour - fighting to make each individual moment count for something - than most of us work in an entire day," Kelly said.
"Her gift of language can now only be seen in Internet videos from a more innocent time," Kelly said, joking that she would have been nicknamed Gabby regardless of her given name. "Now she struggles to deliver each and every sentence."
"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," he said.
The gunman sat quietly, turning his head slightly to watch each person who spoke—the judge, the prosecutors, the victims. He did not turn to acknowledge the courtroom packed with about 200 victims, family members, attorneys and his parents. His mother, Amy, cried throughout the hearing as she sat in gallery behind the defense table with his father, Randy.
Much of the time Loughner sat with his arms crossed, slouched in his chair. At times he sighed deeply. Lead defense attorney Judy Clarke occasionally reached to pat him on the arm in a reassuring fashion.
Wearing a dark brown shirt, dark tie with thin gold stripes and khaki pants, he spoke but once during the sentencing, acknowledging that he did not want to address the court. "That's true," he told the judge in a toneless voice.
Those who spoke relayed their experiences of the shooting and their attempts to heal. Many talked about the emotional scars left on those whose names don't appear on the list of victims Loughner was charged with harming.
Mary Reed was shot on Jan. 8 as she stood with her children to meet Giffords at the Congress On Your Corner event.
"That day, Mr. Loughner not only shot me, he put an end to my children’s childhood," she told the court.
Reed was shot in the back as she shielded her daughter, then 17 years old, from the bullets. Her 14-year-old son was also there.
"No child should have the images, the sounds, the smells of that day, etched into their memory," she said.
"Childhood memories should be of the best of days," she said, "not of bloody bodies, dying people, and bullets everywhere."
"Mr. Loughner introduced my children to something sinister and evil," Reed said. "For that there is no form of justice, we can only endure."
"It seems fitting for him to spend his life reflecting on his actions," she said. "I'm heart-broken for his parents... I pray for him, and I hope he thinks of me daily."
Several of the victims called for increased attention to mental health, and for more extensive gun control — an issue taken up by the judge, who said the sort of high-capacity magazine used by Loughner was outlawed before the assault-weapons ban expired in 2004.
"I don't understand the social utility of allowing the public to have magazines with 30 bullets," Burns said. "It doesn't make any sense to me at all."
"Our mental health system failed us," said Maisch, who wrestled away Loughner's ammunition clip when he attempted to reload. "It failed our community and our nation."
"I do not expect to get closure in this proceeding," she said, calling it a "hollow word.'
The sentence is "the best measure of justice available," she said.
Maisch and others, expressing a concern echoed by the judge, said that Loughner should receive mental health treatment so he continues to recall his crimes.
"Every time he wakes from his sleep, I need him to know where he is and why he's there. I need him to remember every day what he did," she said.
Kelly also injected a note of political criticism into the proceedings, calling out in particular Gov. Jan Brewer for dismissing concerns about high-capacity ammunition clips a week after the shootings.
"This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short," he said. "We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into a murderous rampage without doing something about it."
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"We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced," Kelly said.
"We have representatives who look at gun violence not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora, we have done nothing," he said.
As Giffords and Kelly returned to their seats in the courtroom gallery, defense attorney Clarke squeezed Loughner's arm, whispering to him. He nodded and looked straight ahead.
Although the former congresswoman and her husband were the last to stand to confront Loughner, those who spoke before did so with equal passion and dignity.
Mavenell Stoddard lost her 76-year-old husband in the shooting rampage.
"Jared, you took my precious husband Dorwin Stoddard. You ruined by life," she told the gunman, moving many in the courtroom to tears.
'I am so lonesome, I hate living without him. No one to hold me, no one to love me, no one to talk to anymore'
"When you shot him, he was saving my life," she said. "I felt his body give when you shot him in the left temple."
"I was holding him as he died," she told Loughner.
"I was screaming, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, help this man."
"I believe that he heard me say, 'I love you and I am not hurt.'" Then I started to pass out, as you had shot me three times," she told Loughner.
"I could never have left him on that cold concrete. Do you know how that haunts me?"
"I am so lonesome, I hate living without him. No one to hold me, no one to love me, no one to talk to anymore," she said.
"You did this because you wanted to. I hope you always have to think about it, every waking moment," Stoddard said.
"I forgive you," she told Loughner. "I do not hate you; I hate the act you performed."
"It took me a while to say before my Lord, and I pray every day," she said.
"I want to be assured that you will be given your medication," she told the gunman.
"Try to find Jesus," she said. "He loves you and will forgive you, in a way that I can't."
"We will never let you win," Stoddard said. "You will not take our spirit, you will not take our ability to love. We will never forget what you have taken; we made good come out of your bad," she said.
Former Giffords aide Pam Simon was shot in the attack.
"I came to the courtroom today seeking peace," she said.
"Jared, I know you did not choose this illness that led to this horrific tragedy," she said.
"When you were a student at Tortolita Middle School, and I was a teacher there, you were a regular student who liked music," Simon said.
"You remind us of the failure of our society to provide adequate mental health care."
Rather than recognize the signs of mental illness, "we just choose to look away," she said.
"A chapter will close, but a book will remain open for those affected, who carry the weight of this heartbreak," she said.
"I will never forget the horror of that day," Simon said, "the loss and wounding of all those good people."
"Adding anger to the burden will do no good. I will find peace and closure in meaningful, positive action, in compassion and forgiveness," Simon said.
Ron Barber, a congressional staffer who was elected to fill Giffords' seat when she resigned, echoed the call for awareness of mental illness.
"Your behaviors preceding the shooting should have alerted others that you needed treatment," he told Loughner.
"I'm grateful we will be spared the ordeal of a lengthy legal process followed by unending appeals," Barber said.
"Mr. and Mrs. Loughner, please know that I and my family hold no animosity toward you," he told the gunman's parents. "I appreciate how devastating the acts of your son must be to you."
Barber addressed the man who shot and almost killed him:
"I am very angry and sick at heart about what you have done, and the hurt you have caused to all of us," Barber said.
"You must live with this burden, and never again see the outside of a prison."
"May these long years of incarceration that you face give you time to think long and hard about what you have done, and to seek forgiveness from those into whose lives you have brought so many tears and so much sadness," Barber said.
'I will walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I will not think of you again'
Susan Hileman, who brought 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green to meet her congresswoman, spoke forcefully to Loughner, who killed the little girl and shot Hileman as they waited in line to speak with Giffords.
"I don't want to be standing here; I don't want to be here at all," she said.
Citizens brought their family members to meet with Giffords, she told Loughner. "You brought a gun."
"You pointed a weapon and shot me, three times. You turned a civics lesson into a nightmare," she said.
Someone should have seen that Loughner needed help with his mental illness, she said.
"There was an appalling lack of attention to your behavior," Hileman said. "Your parents, your schools all failed you."
Shaken, a weeping Hileman told Loughner, "I will walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I will not think of you again."
No death penalty, no Pima prosecution
The decision by federal authorities to accept a plea agreement and not push for a trial with a potential death penalty was influenced by the wishes of the victims and their families, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst.
"You have been given a gift, whether you know it or not. You could have been facing a prosecution that would mean your death," said Kleindienst, addressing Loughner at the hearing.
"As you know, almost all the victims you shot, and the family members of those you killed, came to us and said the death penalty is not something they wanted us to seek in this case, because they recognized you were a man with a mental illness that although it didn’t justify what you did, it explained what you did."
That had a great bearing on the Attorney General’s decision not to seek the death penalty in this case," Kleindienst said.
At a crowded press conference after the hearing, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall told reporters that she decided against charging Loughner at the request of the victims and their families.
LaWall said the federal prosecutors' "innovative" charges "offered a measure of justice for each and every one of the victims."
Despite her personal connections to the case—Judge John Roll was her first supervisor in the County Attorney's Office; she double-dated with Ron Barber; and Gabriel Zimmerman's father Ross once worked in IT for the county, she said—LaWall said she listened to the victims when deciding if local charges should be brought.
She read briefly from a letter sent to her by the shooting victims and their families:
"Please allow this to end here," they wrote.
In a press release, LaWall explained her decision:
Surviving victims and family members told LaWall that they are "completely satisfied with the federal prosecution," that "justice has been served," the sentence is "suitably severe," they "don't know how much more we could take," they would be "relieved not to testify," and any further action by the County Attorney's Office would be a "colossal waste of taxpayer's dollars."
In addition, LaWall noted that pursuing a State prosecution would be extraordinarily expensive, and might not be able to be completed given ongoing concerns and issues regarding Loughner's mental state and his competency to stand trial.
LaWall told reporters that the families said they did not want a trial to keep the wounds of Jan. 8 fresh. Rather, they told her they wanted to "no longer have to have Jared Loughner in our thoughts."
As a dozen camera crews and about 50 other journalists packed up their gear after the press conference, the press spotlight on the Jan. 8 shootings came to an end. While the media circus has ended, life for the survivors and the families of the victims goes on — as it does for Jared Loughner, who was ordered back to prison, there to spend the rest of his days.