Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stood in federal court to face her would-be assassin on Thursday moments before he was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Giffords, last year.
Jared Loughner, 24, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, received seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, under a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said the life sentences he imposed – one for each of the six people who lost their lives, and a seventh for the attempted assassination of Giffords – represented the individuality of the victims.
“He will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again,” Burns said before Loughner was led away by federal marshals.
Giffords suffered a head wound in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that left her with speech difficulties, a paralyzed right arm, diminished sight and a limp.
Loughner, who sat through the proceedings without addressing the court, showed no visible emotion as his sentence was pronounced or during statements delivered earlier in court by several survivors.
Giffords did not speak. Her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke on her behalf.
“You may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven't put a dent in her commitment to make the world a better place,” Kelly told him, with Giffords standing at his side as she impassively faced her assailant.
Loughner, seated next to his lawyer, Judy Clarke, appeared to gaze back at them without expression.
“Although you were mentally ill, you were responsible,” Kelly told Loughner in a clear, ringing voice. “You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did, but from this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”
Giffords resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recuperation.
Kelly also used the occasion to take a political swipe at Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch gun-rights advocate, criticizing her for speaking out against proposed restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones Loughner used, in the aftermath of the shooting.
“Jan Brewer said it had nothing to do with the size of the magazine. … She said this just one week after you used a high-capacity magazine,” Kelly said, also noting that she named a “state gun” weeks later instead of “fixing the education system.”
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson declined comment on the criticism leveled against the governor.
“On this solemn occasion, Governor Brewer isn't interested in engaging in politics,” he said in a statement. “This is a day of justice and peace. Governor Brewer wishes both for the victims and their families.”
The proceedings marked a dramatic epilogue to a rampage of gun violence that shocked many Americans, added to the long-running debate over gun control and cut short the political career of Giffords, a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Loughner pleaded guilty in August in federal court to 19 charges, including murder and attempted murder, in connection with the shootings outside a Tucson area supermarket.
He admitted going to Giffords' “Congress On Your Corner” event armed with a loaded Glock 19 pistol and 60 additional rounds of ammunition with plans to kill the Arizona Democrat.
Loughner shot her through the head at close range. Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.
Court-appointed experts later said Loughner suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions. He was declared unfit to stand trial in May 2011 after he disrupted court proceedings and was dragged out of the courtroom.
Loughner was ruled mentally competent three months ago after being treated for psychosis at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He then agreed to plead guilty.
Few clues to the motives for the attack have emerged. Prison psychologist Christina Pietz has testified that Loughner had expressed remorse for the rampage and especially for the 9-year-old girl's death.
His calm, quiet demeanor in court on Thursday contrasted sharply with the wild-eyed image of Loughner from an early mug shot that captured the then-bald defendant grinning maniacally into the camera.
Asked at the outset of the hearing by the judge if he had chosen to waive his right to make a statement, Loughner answered in a low voice, “That's true.”
He was otherwise silent through the hearing, and made no attempt to avert the gazes of victims who testified before he was sentenced.
One of them was Giffords' former congressional aide Ron Barber, who also was wounded and ended up serving out the rest of her term after winning a special election.
Barber ran in Tuesday's election for a newly created U.S. congressional district in Arizona and was running neck-and-neck with Republican Martha McSally, with the outcome hanging on some 80,000 provisional and early votes that have yet to be tallied.
Speaking to Loughner's parents, Amy and Randy, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom, Barber said, “Please know that I and my family hold no animosity toward you, and that I can appreciate how devastating the acts of your son were.”
Additional reporting by Jazmine Woodberry and David Schwartz; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Will Dunham