Giffords' shooter sentenced

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.
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 Lee Loughner was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to attempting last year to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords as well as to killing six people in Tucson.

Loughner, 24, wearing a brown dress shirt and khaki pants, sat with his arms folded and was expressionless as he was sentenced in federal court in Tucson. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he was given seven consecutive life sentences for the attempted assassination of Giffords, the first-degree murder of a federal judge and one of Gifford's aides, and the slaying of four participants at Giffords' 'Congress on Your Corner' event for constituents in January 2011.

The government agreed not to seek the death penalty for the murders of US District Judge John M. Roll and Gabriel Zimmerman, Gifford's aide, or the four other people, including a nine-year-old girl. Prosecutors said they wouldn't seek restitution because victims said they didn't want any.

Giffords, 42, survived the shooting rampage outside a Safeway grocery store, where Loughner shot her through the head from point-blank range. Giffords, a Democrat, resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recovery. She had won a third term in 2010.

Mark Kelly, her husband, in court criticised politicians for failing to protect citizens by allowing lax gun laws.

"As a nation, we've repeatedly passed up the opportunities to address the issue," Kelly, a retired astronaut, said, citing other shooting massacres in Columbine and Aurora, both in Colorado. "In this state we elect officials so feckless, like Governor Jan Brewer."

"Our state legislature busies itself naming an official Arizona state gun just weeks after (the shooting) instead of doing its job," he said.

Kelly spoke to Loughner, too.

"You may have put a bullet in her head, but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and commitment to make this world a better place," Kelly said of Giffords, who stood by his side as he spoke. "You have decades upon decades to contemplate your crime. After today, after this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you."

Most of the victims who spoke in court addressed Loughner directly.

Patricia Maisch, one of the victims who took the gun from Loughner, said she opposed the death penalty and supported the plea agreement for life in prison. She said she wants him to get treatment so that he will always remember his "horrific crime."

Suzi Hileman, who was shot while she tried to shield Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old, was visibly angry. She told Loughner that he turned a "civics lesson into a nightmare."

She said that although society "failed" Loughner, "that's not enough. There's still the pesky fact you pointed a weapon and shot it three times."

Loughner faces an additional 140 years in prison under his plea deal for the attempted murder of two of Giffords's other aides, including Ron Barber, who in June won a special election to fill the remainder of Giffords's term, and for wounding 10 other participants at the meeting.

"While her work as a member of Congress was disrupted, you did not take away her determination and compassion, nor her desire to serve," Barber said to Loughner in court today. "Her recovery is an inspiration to the entire country."

"This tragedy of brutal violence you inflicted does not define us as individuals nor as a community. This tragedy has shown us so much what it means to help support each other and focus on improving our community."

It was "clear" Loughner was mentally ill and not diagnosed before the shootings, US Attorney John Leonardo in Phoenix said after the  hearing where Loughner pleaded guilty. The decision not to seek the death penalty was a "certain and just resolution to the case," he said.

"I was armed with a Glock model 19, 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, loaded with 33 rounds of ammunition, and 3 additional magazines containing an additional 60 rounds of ammunition," Loughner said in his plea agreement. "Prior to arriving, I had formed a plan to kill Congresswoman Giffords and the people who were at Congress on Your Corner."