News Column

Victims Confront Loughner

Nov. 9, 2012

Michael Kiefer and Sean Holstege, The Arizona Republic,

Gabrielle Giffords
Gabrielle Giffords

Former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, looked intently into the eyes of Jared Loughner in a federal courtroom Thursday and left him this message: "You tried to create a world as dark and evil as your own. Remember this: You failed."

Those were the words of Kelly, who spoke for Giffords at Thursday's sentencing of the man who killed six and wounded 13 during a shooting rampage in a supermarket parking lot near Tucson in January 2011.

Loughner, 24, was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms in prison and an additional 140 years.

Kelly was among a large group of victims and family members who spoke at the hearing before the judge formally imposed Loughner's sentence.

Kelly and Giffords approached the lectern together. Giffords gazed intently at Loughner as Kelly told the gunman, "Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day.

"Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at," Kelly said of his wife, who took a bullet to the head. He also told Loughner, "By making death and producing tragedy you sought to diminish the beauty of life."

Christina Pietz, Loughner's prison psychologist, told the court she interacts daily with Loughner.

Pietz said his mental health is steadily improving and she believed him to be competent to understand the proceedings against him and to proceed with sentencing despite his mental illness.

As Pietz spoke, Loughner stared down at the table before him. Though he had a legal right to address the court, Loughner declined to make a statement.

The drama was intense as victims each took a turn testifying at the hearing.

The first witness to testify was Patricia Maisch, who said that the mental health system had failed and that true justice in Loughner's case was impossible. Loughner's parents sobbed as she spoke. "I need him to know where he is and why -- to remember every day what he did and the horror he set loose," Maisch said.

One after another, victims took the stand to tell Loughner the damage he had done to their families and their lives. The fiance of Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the melee, spoke of raising their daughter alone.

Susan Hileman, who was shot three times, looked directly at Loughner as she told him, "You turned a civics lesson into a nightmare."

Mavy Stoddard, whose husband was killed, told Loughner, "Jared, you ruined my whole life."

She recounted how her husband died in her arms, and she told Loughner, "You gave him no chance."

"You took away my life. And my reason for living. And you did this because you wanted to," Stoddard told Loughner. But then, she added, "I forgive you."

Pam Simon, a former Giffords aide who was shot in the chest, told the court: "I want this to be over. I came here seeking peace." She told Loughner that she knew he did not seek his mental illness and that she had learned from the tragedy.

"I have been humbled and inspired by the strength and determination of other survivors," Simon said.

Under terms of a plea agreement hammered out by prosecutors and defense attorneys in August, Loughner will spend the rest of his life in prison -- most likely in a federal prison psychiatric ward.

Loughner was charged for the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings in a supermarket parking lot north of Tucson. Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet there when Loughner fired with a 9mm Glock 19 pistol.

Giffords eventually resigned her seat in the House of Representatives because of her injuries.

Loughner pleaded guilty to two counts of murder of a federal employee and four counts of causing the death of a person at a federally sponsored event. The charges were for killing:

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 neighbor, Hileman.

Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79, three retirees at the event.

Loughner also pleaded guilty to attempted assassination of a member of Congress for shooting Giffords, and various counts of attempted murder and injuring a person at a federal event.

In addition to Giffords, the wounded were Mavy Stoddard (Dorwan Stoddard's wife); George Morris (Dorothy Morris' husband); Hileman (Christina-Taylor's neighbor); Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer who filled her congressional seat; Pam Simon, another Giffords staffer; and event attendees Bill Badger, Kenneth Dorushka, Eric Fuller, Randy Gardner, Mary Reed, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.

Contributing: Shaun McKinnon and Wendy Halloran of The Arizona Republic

(c) Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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