Giffords stands by as husband speaks to shooter

Last updated 08:25 09/11/2012
Former US politician Gabrielle Gifford with husband Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut.
FACE TO FACE: Former US politician Gabrielle Gifford with husband Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut. Gifford has come face-to-face with her shooter at his sentencing.
Jared Loughner.
ARIZONA SHOOTER: Jared Loughner.

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Shot former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has come face to face with the man who tried to kill her last year, but chosen not to speak.

Her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, did all the talking for her, as the couple told Jared Lee Loughner how the 24-year-old's deadly rampage at the former congresswoman's political meeting 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. 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.

Earlier, Loughner told US District Judge Larry Burns that he will not be speaking at the hearing where he is expected to be sentenced to life in prison.

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 calls 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 Susan 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."

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"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 realised she was alive after he was forcibly medicated.

It's unknown whether Pima County prosecutors, who have discretion on whether to seek the death penalty against Loughner, will file state charges against him. 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, Missouri, 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, Colorado, that houses some of the country's most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.

- AP

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