Loughner Pleads Guilty in Rampage, Avoids Death Sentence

Loughner’s Guilty Plea Avoids U.S. Death Sentence for Rampage
Jared Lee Loughner, 22-years-old, is seen in this handout photograph provided by the Pima County Sheriff's Forensic Unit. Source: Pima County Sheriff's Forensic Unit via Getty Images

Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty to killing six people and trying to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords after federal prosecutors agreed they wouldn’t seek the death penalty.

Loughner, 23, will face life in prison without parole under the plea deal. The former community college student pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in Tucson, Arizona, to 19 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges related to the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting. Loughner had previously pleaded not guilty.

“I plead guilty,” Loughner said as Burns read each charge against him in court. His parents, sitting three rows behind their son in court, bowed their heads as he spoke.

Loughner’s guilty plea came as lawyers prepare their defense of James Holmes, the former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado in Denver charged with killing 12 and injuring 58 at a theater in the suburb of Aurora during a July 20 midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” On Aug. 5, a man identified as Wade Michael Page killed six people in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee before police shot him dead. Page was a former U.S. Army serviceman and a member of several white-supremacist rock bands.

About 30 victims, survivors and their representatives in the courtroom watched as Loughner changed his plea. Ron Barber, an aide to Gifford wounded in the shooting and now holding Gifford’s seat, cradled his wife after Loughner pleaded guilty to shooting him.

Survivor Families

“In making the determination not to seek the death penalty, I took into consideration the views of the victims and survivor families, the recommendations of the prosecutors assigned to the case, and the applicable law,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an e-mailed statement.

It was “clear” Loughner was mentally ill and not diagnosed before the shootings, John Leonardo, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, said after the hearing. The decision not to seek the death penalty was a “certain and just resolution to the case,” he said.

Burns set Nov. 15 for Loughner’s sentencing. Pima County prosecutor Barbara LaWall said in February that state charges would be brought against Loughner after the federal case ended. A call to her media office yesterday seeking comment on the state’s case wasn’t immediately returned.

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was among 13 wounded in the shooting rampage outside a supermarket where she was holding a community meeting. Bystanders wrestled Loughner to the ground. Giffords survived a gunshot wound through her head. She resigned Jan. 25 to focus on her recovery. A 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among those killed in the shooting.

Prison Psychologist

Loughner understands that he will never leave prison, Christina Pietz, a Bureau of Prisons psychologist who has treated him, said during yesterday’s hearing.

Burns had previously determined that Loughner wasn’t competent to stand trial and had ordered him to remain in U.S. custody for treatment or until doctors determined he was mentally able to help in his defense.

Loughner had been medicated with anti-psychotic drugs and confined to a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. The drugging was approved by Burns, over objections of Loughner’s lawyer, on grounds that Loughner was a danger to others.

Pietz testified that as time went on and Loughner took prescribed medication voluntarily, the weight of the shooting dawned on him. “I did especially cry about the child,” Loughner told Pietz once, referring to 9-year-old victim Christina Green.

Before Loughner entered his guilty plea, Burns determined that he was mentally competent to do so.

The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-187, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Tucson).

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