Tucson gunman pleads guilty in plea deal, avoiding death penalty

PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) -- Jared Lee Loughner on Tuesday pleaded guilty to killing six people and wounding U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others when he opened fire at a political event outside a supermarket in Arizona in January 2011, prosecutors said.

Loughner, 23, pleaded guilty to nineteen federal charges in a plea agreement which will spare him a federal death penalty and instead sentences him to seven consecutive life sentences, followed by 140 years in prison, with no eligibility for parole. The deal also waives Loughner's right to an appeal.

A federal judge had initially ruled in May 2011 that Loughner was incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness and ordered him to be hospitalized in a facility in Springfield, Missouri. Experts had examined Loughner and determined that he was severely schizophrenic, suffering from paranoia and delusions.

But U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns ruled on Tuesday that Loughner, a college dropout, was now competent enough to stand trial and enter a plea. "He's a different person in his appearance and affect than the first time I saw him," Burns said of Loughner during the court appearance, as quoted by NBC News.

John Leonardo, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, welcomed the plea agreement. "Given the defendant's history of significant mental illness, this plea agreement, which requires the defendant to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison, with no possibility of parole, is a just and appropriate resolution of this case," he said.

The attack happened in January 2011 when Loughner opened fire outside a supermarket in northwest Tucson, where Giffords was hosting her first "Congress on Your Corner" of the year. Loughner, armed with a Glock model 19 9mm semi-automatic pistol, walked up to Giffords and shot her in the head at close range.

The Democrat, who was at the time representing Arizona's 8th congressional district, was critically injured and remained hospitalized for months. She announced her resignation from U.S. Congress in January of this year, saying she had more work to do on her recovery but promised to return to work for Arizona and the United States.

After shooting Giffords, Loughner opened fire at other people who were attending the political event, killing six people and injuring twelve others. Among the fatalities was federal judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Loughner was arrested when police arrived at the scene.

Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said Tuesday they both support the plea agreement. "The pain and loss caused by the events of January 8, 2011, are incalculable," the couple said in a joint statement. "Avoiding a trial will allow us - and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community - to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives."

But Susan Hileman, who was injured as she accompanied 9-year-old Christina, said the plea agreement will not give her closure. "There is never closure because Christina is never going to ring my doorbell again," she told reporters. "The wound is always open, there's a hole in the world. Judicial proceedings don't do anything for that."

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