Victims Share Stories as Loughner Goes Away for Hundreds of Years
TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Mass murderer Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced Thursday to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years for the fatal shooting spree that nearly ended the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Though Giffords survived a bullet to her head that fateful day, her husband, Mark Kelly, told Loughner at the sentencing hearing that "Gabby would trade her own life to bring back any of those you took away."
In addition to the attempted assassination of Giffords at a Jan. 8, 2011, Congress on Your Corner event, Loughner killed six people and wounded 13 others.
Before he addressed the silent and seemingly emotionless Loughner, Kelly slowly guided Giffords to the podium. Giffords had her paralyzed right arm in a sling. She is also blind in one eye and has difficulty speaking.
"Her life has been forever changed," Kelly said. "The plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered."
"You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own," he said. "But know this, and remember it always: You failed."
Kelly went on to criticize "feckless" leaders and "a political class that is afraid to do anything about gun violence."
He singled out Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., who made controversial pro-gun comments after the shooting.
Though Loughner had used an ammunition clip with 33 bullets, Brewer said a smaller one would not have saved lives because Loughner could have had another gun.
Kelly also criticized the state Legislature dominated by the right wing, which named an "official Arizona state gun" in the wake of the shootings but did nothing to address gun violence.
"You may have put a bullet through her head," Kelly said to Loughner, "but you haven't put a dent in her spirit or her commitment to make the world a better place."
"After this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you," he said.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered that Loughner be returned to a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., where he has spent the last year being treated for schizophrenia. Burns said that he prefers that Loughner remain at Springfield and continue to receive medical care.
Loughner pleaded guilty in August to 19 counts, including the attempted assassination of Giffords; the murders of U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Roll and Congressional Aide Gabriel Zimmerman; the attempted murders Giffords staffers Ron Barber and Pamela Simon; and causing the deaths of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck and Dorwan Stoddard.
The plea agreement allowed the 24-year-old to avoid the death penalty and a lengthy trial.
Burns said that the consecutive life sentences "reflect the individuality of the victims."
"Mr Loughner planned this activity," he added, noting that the gunman had researched famous assassins and the federal death penalty before the shootings.
Prior to sentencing, Burns said he hoped that the case would serve as a catalyst to reform the nation's mental health system. He also spoke about gun control.
"We as a community, society and country need to renew the dialogue over the question whether magazines like the one used here ought to be available to the public," he said. "I don't understand the social utility of allowing citizens to have magazines with 30 bullets in them."
Prior to 2004, federal law prohibited such magazines, he said.
Suzie Heilman, who took 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green to the event, told Loughner that he had "turned a civics lesson into a nightmare."
Heilman was shot three times and survived. Taylor-Green died.
"I will walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I will not think of you again," Heilman said.
Mary Reed, who was shot three times and still has a bullet in her back, remembered "the smell of blood everywhere."
"We can only as a family endure, and in time perhaps forgive," she said.
Throughout the lengthy victims' statements portion of the hearing, Loughner sat silent next to his lawyer. He did not move save to take a few sips of water.
Other victims spoke of searching in vain for answers; of violently changed lives; of moving away from Tucson and its ghosts; of the way the shootings will haunt them forever; of trying to forgive and understand; and of the many ways in which the mental health system had failed both Loughner and his victims.
Congressman Ron Barber, a Democrat whose results in the election this week are still uncertain, spoke to the gunman's parents.
"Please know that I and my family hold no animosity towards you, and I can appreciate how devastating the acts of your son must be to you," he said.
Barber remains locked with a Republican challenger in a race to fill Giffords' seat.