Victims in the Tucson shooting rampage will get a chance to confront gunman Jared Lee Loughner, who will be sentenced Thursday for killing six and wounding 13 people, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords and her retired astronaut husband Mark Kelly are expected to be in court and make a statement before Loughner is sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns in Tucson. Other victims are also expected to appear.
Giffords was making a routine political appearance mid-morning on Jan. 8, 2011 at a supermarket parking lot in her Tucson district when Loughner opened fire, shooting her in the head. Passers-by rushed to help Giffords and wrestled Loughner to the ground. Before Loughner was subdued, he fired 31 more shots.
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The nation then waited as doctors worked to save Giffords’ life in what has been described as a miraculous recovery. She then turned to her long-term and inspirational rehabilitation. Her first visit to Congress before stepping down from office led to a prolonged ovation from her colleagues.
The facts in the case were never in doubt. Loughner was the only suspect and the question focused on whether he would avoid the death penalty because of his mental health. After the shooting, Loughner was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
Burns ruled that Loughner, now 24, was able to understand the charges against him, which eventually paved the way for a plea bargain designed to ensure that he would spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.
Three months ago, Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges. The agreement includes the dismissal of 30 other charges and a sentence of seven consecutive life terms, followed by 140 years in prison.
Giffords and some of the other victims said at the time that they welcomed the agreement because it meant that they could avoid a long and emotionally challenging court process that would have demanded they relive the events of that day.
Christina Pietz, the court-appointed psychologist who treated Loughner, had warned that although he was competent to plead guilty, he remained severely mentally ill and that he could deteriorate if forced to stand trial. Loughner, who has been in a prison medical facility in Springfield, Mo., for more than a year, is expected to serve his sentence in prison wards for the mentally ill.
Other victims are expected to make comments. Rep. Ron Barber, a former top aide to Giffords who replaced his boss in Congress, is expected to issue a statement. Barber is still awaiting word on whether he was re-elected to the seat on Tuesday.
Thursday’s proceedings end the federal case against Loughner. Pima County officials are still deciding whether to bring state charges.
Killed in the attack were: John Roll, 63, presiding U.S. District Court judge for Arizona; Gabe Zimmerman, 30, one of Giffords' staffers; Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old attending Giffords' event with an adult neighbor; Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79, three retirees at the event.
In addition to Giffords and Barber, the wounded were: Mavy Stoddard (Dorwan's wife); George Morris (Dorothy's husband); Susan Hileman (Christina-Taylor's neighbor); Pam Simon, another Giffords staffer; and event attendees Bill Badger, Kenneth Dorushka, Eric Fuller, Randy Gardner, Mary Reed, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.