Loughner: 'I plead guilty,' will be sentenced to 7 life terms
'He's finished; he's not going to get out again'
Jared Loughner pleaded guilty Tuesday to 19 counts in the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting, under a plea agreement that will send him to prison for life.
"I plead guilty," Loughner repeated slowly as U.S. District Judge Larry Burns questioned him on each count.
By pleading guilty, Loughner avoids a potential death penalty. Under the terms of the 14-page agreement, he will be sentenced to seven life terms, plus 140 years in prison, to be served consecutively. There is no possibility of parole under Loughner's sentence, which is due to be imposed on Nov. 15.
Many of the victims welcomed the settlement, and said they were pleased they would not have to endure testifying at a trial.
"Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery," said a statement issued by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.
Her comments were echoed by several of the shooting victims who attended Tuesday's hearing at Tucson's federal courthouse.
"I approve of the deal that was struck," said Randy Gardner, who was shot on Jan. 8.
"He's finished; he's not going to get out again," he said. "He's not going to be able to harm anybody."
Speaking after the hearing, Giffords' successor in Congress said "I truly believe that justice was done today."
"My hope is that what happened today ... can help all of us move forward and continue healing," said U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who was also shot in the attack.
"There's never closure, because Christina (-Taylor Green) is never going to ring my doorbell again," said shooting victim Susan Hileman.
"The perfect solution is one we can't have," she said. "It's not available to us."
But Hileman said she's satisfied with the plea agreement.
"Today's events make me very proud to be an American," she said.
Loughner found competent
Loughner sat calmly through an hour's worth of testimony by prison psychologist Christina Pietz, who told the court that the defendant had been made competent to stand trial.
Burns ruled that Loughner was competent to stand trial or enter a plea, remarking that his behavior was quite different from his past court appearances, and that he was following the events in the courtroom closely.
"He's a different person in his appearance and his affect than the first time I laid eyes on him," Burns said.
Loughner's responses to questioning by the judge were mostly limited to "yes, sir," with only a few longer sentences. He spoke quietly, with a thick tongue—a frequent side effect of psychotropic medications, and stared ahead at the judge throughout the hearing, blinking only occasionally.
Unlike previous hearings in Tucson, when he has worn waist chains and handcuffs, Loughner was unrestrained as he sat between his attorneys at the defense table.
Showing only the faintest flicker of emotion, Loughner pleaded guilty to:
Loughner also admitted to creating a grave risk of death to bystanders Carol Dorushka, Robert Gawlick, Daniel Hernandez, Mark Kimble, Patricia Maisch, Emma McMahon, Owen McMahon, Thomas McMahon, Sara Rajca, Faith Salzgeber, Roger Salzgeber, Doris Tucker and Alexander Villec.
Judge Burns read over a statement of facts from the plea agreement, that recounted in the first person, Loughner's actions on Jan. 8.
"I walked up to Congresswoman Giffords, drew the pistol and shot her in the head at close range, intending to kill her," the statement read in part.
As Burns methodically reviewed the statement covering each victim, changing the first person to the second, he asked Loughner at each point if he acknowledged his crimes.
"You planned those killings?," he asked at one point.
"Yes," Loughner replied.
After reviewing the additional terms of the agreement, Burns spent about five minutes walking Loughner through the individual counts, asking him each time what his plea was.
"I plead guilty," Loughner said 18 times — Burns having combined his question on the counts in the murders of Roll and Zimmerman.
Loughner was accused of killing six and wounding 13 others in a shooting at a "Congress On Your Corner" meet and greet with Giffords' constituents at a Northwest Side grocery store on the morning of Jan. 8, 2011.
Surveillance video that recorded the shooting and the large number of witnesses left no doubt as to Loughner's having been the gunman; he was tackled by bystanders and victims as he paused to reload his Glock handgun.
Loughner was originally charged with 49 federal counts in the attack. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf by the court.
Fourteen of the charges Loughner faced could have resulted in the death penalty.
As part of the plea agreement, which he signed on Monday, Loughner admitted to his crimes, and gave up any right to appeal his sentence.
"Is that what you want to do? Have you made that choice to give up those rights and plead guilty?," Burns asked.
"Yes," Loughner said.
Loughner also agreed to drop any appeals related to a decision by prison officials to involuntarily medicate him.
Under the plea agreement, he will serve a life sentence for each of the following: attempting to assassinate Giffords, murdering Roll and Zimmerman, and causing the deaths of Green, Morris, Schneck, and Stoddard at a federally provided activity.
Also under the agreement, he will be sentenced to the maximum of 20 years for the attempted murders of Barber and Simon, and 10 years each for injuring Badger, Dorushka, Fuller, Gardner, Hileman, Morris, Reed, Stoddard, Tucker, and Veeder.
If Loughner receives any payment for story rights, drawings, interviews or other payments in connection of the case, he will forfeit those funds to the victims, up to $19 million—$1 million for each person shot.
In May 2011, Loughner was found incompetent to stand trial, and he was was sent to a federal facility in Missouri for treatment to restore his ability to understand the charges against him and participate in his defense.
Prison doctors had said he suffers from schizophrenia, but that he could be restored to competency for trial.
Loughner's mental state
Pietz testified Tuesday that Loughner was now able to stand trial, mainly because of antipsychotic medications he's received in a federal prison hospital.
Loughner has a "rational understanding of the court process," she said.
Loughner has grown remorseful about his crimes while undergoing treatment, she said.
Loughner told her, "I especially cry about the child," Pietz testified.
"The thoughts ... I'm tormented by them," Pietz said Loughner told her.
He still has difficulty believing that Giffords survived the shooting, Pietz said.
Pietz said Loughner suffers from depression, and Giffords' survival has contributed to that.
"If this is true, Jared is a failure," Pietz said he told her, speaking in the third person.
At a May 2011 hearing in which he was found incompetent for trial, Loughner yelled "She died in front of me," during an outburst before being hustled from the courtroom.
Pietz said Loughner has also said that part of the surveillance video that recorded the shooting was faked, but that Loughner no longer suffers from delusions about the attack.
"His perspective is very different," she said.
Pietz said Loughner is no longer hearing voices or receiving messages from his TV set.
"Previously, it was obvious when he was attending to voices," she said.
Loughner has been given jobs in prison—rolling clothing for other inmates and stamping return addresses on envelopes—which he enjoys, she said.
"He loves his jobs," she said. "It's a big deal to him, doing something that he's successful at."
"He's very concerned about doing the right thing; about not getting in trouble in the prison system," Pietz said.
Loughner said during a group therapy session,"I'm not going to ever get out" of prison, she said.
Listening to that testimony, Loughner bit his lower lip slightly.
Pietz said that Loughner told her, "I'm 23 years old. This is it. This is my life."
Pietz testified that Loughner evaded a reply when she asked if he planned to commit suicide in prison, telling her "I'm not going to answer that."
As the judge gaveled the hearing to a close after accepting his plea, Loughner was immediately led from the courtroom. His mother, Ann Loughner, sat quietly weeping in a corner next to his father, Randy.
Although Loughner wasn't restrained as he was in prior court appearances, security at the federal courthouse was tighter than usual.
In addition to the metal detectors installed at the main entrance, those entering the courtroom had to pass through another detector set up in the hallway. U.S. Marshals and officers with the Federal Protective Service stood watch throughout the courthouse and its grounds.
The sixth-floor courtroom was crowded with victims, family members, attorneys and reporters. Dozens more filled an overflow room to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television.
After the hearing, officers corralled dozens of members of the press outside, including a large contingent of photographers and TV cameramen—photography and audio recording aren't allowed in federal court.
Appearing at a press conference were those victims and family members who attended the hearing, including Barber and his wife, Nancy; Susan Hileman and her husband, Bill; James Tucker, Bill Badger, Pam Simon, Randy Gardner, James E. Fuller, Kenneth Veeder, Mark Kimble, Daniel Hernandez, and others.
While most declined to speak to the press, those who did said they supported the plea agreement.
Call for gun control
A number of the shooting victims have called for stiffer controls on gun ownership.
"Even in the NRA, people support gun checks," said Gardner.
Gardner said he's not "naive," and that background checks for firearms purchasers won't solve everything, "but we should do something ... We can and we must."
Gardner also called for better mental health treatment.
"We've got to be our brother's keeper," he said. "Reach out when you see people struggling and get them help."
Fuller said he hopes "those taboo words 'gun control' can be spoken in the halls of our Congress again."
Loughner still faces the possibility of state charges in the attack.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has not commented on whether she'll prosecute Loughner in the shooting.
Gardner and many other victims have said they don't want to have a state-level trial.
"We're not out for vengeance here," he said after Tuesday's hearing. "I don't see the point of reliving all of it again."
"There's this book I read that says three requirements: One, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God," shooting victim Tucker told reporters.
"And I think today that first step was achieved and I think that second step was also put into play. And I think if we all take that third step our society is going to be a lot better to live in," he said.