Jared Lee Loughner is to appear in court to face charges of attempting to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and murdering U.S. District Judge John Roll in a Jan. 8 shooting spree at a Tucson, Arizona, shopping mall that killed six and wounded at least 13 others.
Loughner, 22, is also accused of killing Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Giffords’s staff, and attempting to murder two other staffers, according to a complaint filed yesterday in Phoenix.
“He certainly could face the death penalty,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor. “It’s a similar kind of case as the Oklahoma City bombing.” Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed in 2001 for the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is in the process of drafting an indictment against Loughner for presentation to the grand jury,” the Justice Department said in a statement yesterday announcing the criminal complaint.
Loughner is in custody and scheduled to make his initial court appearance this afternoon in federal court in Phoenix.
“We do not yet have all the answers,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters yesterday at a news conference in Tucson. It is “premature” to conclude “what the motivations were of the individual in this particular case,” he said.
Investigators found a 2007 letter from Giffords to Loughner during a search of his home, thanking him for attending a “Congress on your Corner” event at a mall in Tucson, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation statement filed with the criminal complaint. They also found an envelope with handwriting indicating he allegedly planned the attack, saying “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords,” the FBI said.
Mueller said there were discussions between the U.S. attorney and the Pima County district attorney about possible further charges in federal or state court. Local prosecutors said they were planning state charges tied to non-federal employees killed and injured in the attack, according to the Arizona Republic.
Bystanders apprehended the alleged suspect after he opened fire at a community meeting organized by Giffords outside a supermarket in Tucson. Giffords is in critical condition after being shot in the head. Six people were killed in the attack, including a 9-year-old girl.
Manny Tarango, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix, didn’t immediately return calls for comment.
Judy Clarke, who previously represented “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, was recommended by the federal Public Defender’s Office to represent Loughner, according to court records. Clarke didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail from Bloomberg News seeking comment.
Clarke, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, also represented convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui; Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman convicted of drowning her two sons, and 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. In all of those cases, the defendant’s mental state was a factor.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate anybody else was involved in this,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said yesterday in an interview.
Local authorities are looking at a possible connection between Loughner and American Renaissance, an online group known for its anti-government rhetoric, the Associated Press reported, citing an official who declined to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.
A “person of interest” the sheriff’s department had been looking for earlier turned out to be a cab driver who had taken Loughner to the mall where the shooting took place, according to a statement from the department.
The woman who helped overcome the gunman was identified as Patricia Maisch, according to the sheriff’s statement. She was able to grab the bottom of the gun’s magazine as the shooter tried to reload, according to the statement. The pause in shooting that resulted enabled two men to tackle and hold him down until deputies arrived, the sheriff’s office said.
Asked whether the woman was a hero, Dupnik responded “big time.”
“It’s an incredible act of heroism,” Dupnik said. “I don’t know of any other superlatives that could be used.”
In addition to the five federal employees, more than a dozen other people were shot outside the Safeway grocery store, according to the FBI statement. Giffords, a Democrat beginning her third two-year term in the U.S. House, survived a single gunshot to the head.
Law enforcement recovered a Glock 9mm pistol that Loughner bought in November and is alleged to have used in the shooting, according to the statement.
Legislative business on the U.S. House calendar for the coming week is being postponed, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican. The House had planned to vote Jan. 12 on a repeal of Obama’s health-care overhaul.
The dead include Roll, 63, Zimmerman, 30, Christina Green, 9, Dorothy Murray, 76, Dorwin Stoddard, 76, and Phyllis Schneck, 79, according to the sheriff’s office.
Giffords was the only patient who remained in critical condition yesterday. Three patients were in serious condition.
President Barack Obama called the shooting “a tragedy for our entire country,” and ordered the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff. He also asked Americans to observe a moment of silence at 11 a.m. New York time today to honor the victims.
“Violence has no place in a free society,” the president said. Obama sent Mueller to Arizona to lead the probe into the shooting.
On Jan. 12, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider at least one resolution honoring Giffords and the people who died, Cantor said.
Alex Villec, a 19-year-old volunteer for Giffords’s campaign, told reporters at the scene that he was just feet away when a man opened fire. The man barged through a line of people waiting to meet Giffords and asked to speak with her, he said.
Roll had come to the meeting to speak with Giffords and her staff about the help she had provided to deal with the growing volume of cases filed in Arizona federal courts, according to the FBI statement. Roll was speaking with Ron Barber, one of Giffords’s aides, before he was killed, according to the statement.
The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-00035, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
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