Gabrielle Giffords limped to the front of the courtroom and stared silently Thursday as she came face-to-face for the first time with the man who tried to kill her.
The former congresswoman hadn't been near Jared Lee Loughner since the deadly rampage outside a meet-and-greet at a supermarket that killed six people and left her partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and brain injury.
Giffords' astronaut husband told Loughner what Giffords couldn't, before he was sentenced to seven life terms for the January 2011 slayings and attempted assassination of a member of Congress.
"Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place," Mark Kelly said.
Giffords, wearing a black brace around her torso, looked closely at the 24-year-old Loughner for several minutes without uttering a word.
Loughner returned their gaze, but showed no emotion. His mother sobbed nearby.
Loughner was then ordered to serve the seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the shootings that killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords, as she met with constituents in a Tucson shopping plaza.
His guilty plea enables him to avoid a federal death sentence. No state charges will be filed.
The sentencing marked the end of a nearly two-year-long saga in which Loughner, who has schizophrenia, was forcibly medicated at a Missouri prison medical facility so he can be competent to understand the charges against him. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns recommended Thursday that he remain there indefinitely.
Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the plea deal as a way to move on. It spared victims and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and locks Loughner up for life.
At the hearing, Loughner looked nothing like the smiling bald man with a bruise around his eye seen in the mug shot taken after the shooting. He had closely cropped brown hair and was wearing dress pants, shirt and tie.
One by one, his victims had the chance to tell him how his actions immeasurably changed their lives. They approached the podium to address Loughner, and asked the judge if they could turn to face him.
Loughner told the judge that he would not speak, and sat showing no visible emotion at a table with his attorneys.
The last victim to approach the podium was Giffords, causing the courtroom to go quiet and somber. The couple had been sitting several rows behind the prosecutor's table, across the room from Loughner.
As they sat in the courtroom, Kelly put his arm around her, and she would lean into him. When they made their way gingerly to the podium, the 42-year-old Giffords, dressed in black pants and a turquoise shirt, limped. Kelly held her arm and spoke to Loughner, who stared blankly at the couple.
"Gabby would trade her own life to bring back any one of those you savagely murdered on that day," Kelly said. "Gabby works harder in one minute of an hour fighting to make each individual moment count for something than most of us work in an entire day."
Kelly added: "Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered. Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at."
Kelly kissed Giffords when he was done. He grabbed her hand and helped her walk back to her seat.
Susan Hileman, who was shot three times while trying to save her 9-year-old neighbor, shook as she spoke.
"We've been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking," she said. "Your parents, your schools, your community, they all failed you. It's all true. It's not enough."
Officials at Pima Community College had suspended Loughner over safety concerns after his classroom disruptions. They told him that if he wanted to return, he would have to get a mental health clearance. Loughner withdrew.
The court-appointed psychologist who treated Loughner has warned that although Loughner was competent to plead guilty, he remained severely mentally ill and his condition could deteriorate under the stress of a trial.
Authorities said they will return Loughner to the Missouri prison facility, but it's up to federal prison officials whether he will remain there.
Legal experts had predicted that the only viable defense for Loughner was an insanity defense, given the number of witnesses and video surveillance footage. Still, Loughner never mounted such a defense.
Burns said Loughner did not have an insanity case because the evidence indicated he was aware of his actions and knew they were wrong. In fact, the judge noted, an examination of Loughner's computer showed the 24-year-old had researched Giffords and the federal death penalty beforehand.
"It would not have washed," the judge said.
Loughner planned the attacks by getting a gun, high-capacity pistol magazine and ear plugs and lying in wait for Giffords at the grocery store, Burns said. Among those killed was another federal judge, John Roll.
Mavy Stoddard, who was shot three times and cradled her dying husband, 76-year-old Dorwin Stoddard, in her arms as he lay bleeding after shielding her from gunfire, was among those who spoke to Loughner.
"You took away my life, my love and my reason for living," Stoddard said.
"I am so lonesome, hate living without him," she said, her voice cracking. Staring down at Loughner, she said, "we will never let you win. You will not take our spirit."
By JACQUES BILLEAUD and BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press
Mark Kelly's Impact Statement:
Mr. Loughner, for the first and last time, you are going to hear directly from Gabby and me about what you took away on January 8th, 2011 and, just as important, what you did not. So pay attention.
That bright and chilly Saturday morning, you killed six innocent people. Daughters and sons. Mothers and fathers. Grandparents and friends. They were devoted to their families, their communities, their places of worship.
Gabby would trade her own life to bring back any one of those you savagely murdered on that day. Especially young Christina-Taylor Green, whose high-minded ideas about service and democracy deserved a full life committed to advancing them. Especially 30-year old Gabe Zimmerman, whom Gabby knew well and cherished, and whose love for his family and his fiancee and service to his country were as deep as his loss is tragic. Especially Judge John Roll, whom Gabby was honored to call a colleague and friend and from whose interminable dedication to our community and country she gained enormous inspiration. Gabby would give anything to take away the grief you visited upon the Morrises, the Schnecks, and the Stoddards - anything to heal the bodies and psyches of your other victims.
And then there is what you took from Gabby. Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered. Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she was once so very good at. Gabby is a people person: she exudes kindness, creativity, and compassion. If she were not born with the name - "Gabby" - someone would have given it to her. Now she struggles to deliver each and every sentence. Her gift for language can now only be seen in Internet videos from a more innocent time.
Gabby was an outdoor enthusiast. She was often seen rollerblading with her friend Raoul in Reed Park, hiking in Sabino Canyon, or careening down Rillito Wash Trail on her bike, as she was the night before you tried and failed to murder her. She hasn't been to any of those places since, and I don't know when she'll return.
There's more. Gabby struggles to walk. Her right arm is paralyzed. She is partially blind. Gabby works harder in one minute of an hour - fighting to make each individual moment count for something - than most of us work in an entire day.
Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own.
But know this, and remember it always: You failed.
Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it's hard, even for possessing the wrong values.
We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.
We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.
In this state we have elected officials so feckless in their leadership that they would say, as in the case of Governor Jan Brewer, "I don't think it has anything to do with the size of the magazine or the caliber of the gun." She went on and said, "Even if the shooter's weapon had held fewer bullets, he'd have another gun, maybe. He could have three guns in his pocket" - she said this just one week after a high capacity magazine allowed you to kill six and wound 19 others, before being wrestled to the ground while attempting to reload. Or a state legislature that thought it appropriate to busy itself naming an official Arizona state gun just weeks after this tragedy occurred, instead of doing the work it was elected to do: encourage economic growth, help our returning veterans and fix our education system.
The challenges we face are so great, but the leadership in place is so often lacking. In so many moments, I find myself thinking, "We need Gabby." In letter after letter, I've seen that others agree. As Americans mourned the six who died, they also mourned the loss of a representative who embodied the service they realized they should expect from those they elect, the type of person our county desperately needs to provide leadership and solve problems. Gabby was a courageous member of congress. Willing to stand up to the establishment when the establishment was wrong. She was thirsty for partnership across the aisle and was an unrelenting champion for her 600,000 constituents. One of which was you.
There's something else Gabby and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about. The way we conduct politics must change. Sure it's easier to win a debate if you can turn your opponent into a demon, but that's not how we move forward. Not only does slash and burn politics make Americans cynical about their leaders, but it leads to bad ideas. It creates problems instead of solving the ones we have now.
Even amid all that was lost, Gabby and I give thanks for her life, her spirit, and her intellect, which are a continued force in this world despite what you've done. We exalt in sharing our lives with each other and with our family and friends.
As a city, Tucson has grown stronger. We love this community, and we love our neighbors. We are resilient, and the dynamism and compassion of our fellow Tucsonans will continue to push this city forward.
And there is what persists in Gabby: her love for this city, this state and this country. Her commitment to lifting us all up, and her ability to lead. Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place.
Mr. Loughner, pay close attention to this: Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted upon all of us on January 8th of last year. You know this. Gabby and I know this.
Everyone in this courtroom knows this.
You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did. But after today. After this moment. Here and now. Gabby and I are done thinking about you.
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