by Jim Nintzel
“I plead guilty.”
Jared Lee Loughner repeated those words, quietly, slowly and without emotion, more than a dozen times in a Tucson courthouse today as federal Judge Larry Burns read the 19 charges Loughner was admitting to as part of a plea agreement that would spare him the death penalty in relation his shooting rampage on Jan. 8, 2011.
Loughner now faces seven life terms and 140 additional years in federal prison as a result of the rampage, which claimed six lives and left 13 more wounded at former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Congress On Your Corner event. He will be sentenced on Nov. 15.
The 19 charges—down from the 49 he was facing in his original federal indictment—include charges related to all of the 19 people who were shot, as well as bystanders who were put in harm’s way.
Loughner pled guilty to killing federal Judge John Roll, Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, and retirees Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard and Phyllis Schneck.
He also pled guilty to attempting to assassinate Giffords; attempting to kill former Giffords aides Ron Barber and Pam Simon; and wounding Bill Badger, Mavy Stoddard, James Fuller, Susie Hilelman, Kenneth Dorushka, Randy Gardner, Kenneth Veeder, Mary Reed, George Morris and James Tucker.
In addition to life in prison, Loughner must forfeit any money he might make from interviews or other media appearances to pay off $19 million in fines, which reflects the 19 people who were shot.
The guilty pleas came after prison psychologist Christina Pietz testified that while Loughner was among the most severely mentally ill inmates she had worked with, he was now competent to stand trial. He had been undergoing treatment, including involuntarily taking medication, for his psychotic condition at a Missouri federal psychiatric prison unit.
Burns agreed with her assessment, noting the Loughner seems alert throughout today’s court proceedings. Loughner, with his hair cut short and wearing prison khakis, sat next to defense attorney Judy Clarke, his face betraying little emotion as Pietz testified about his recent months of treatment.
Pietz testified that Loughner still has trouble believing that Giffords survived being shot through the head and has expressed a sense of failure that he did not kill her.
She said that he told her, speaking in third person: “If this is true, Jared is a failure.”
Pietz said Loughner was also resigned to remaining behind bars for the rest of his life.
Loughner has been participating in some group therapy sessions, although he remains in a separate cell during the sessions. Pietz testified that during one session, the group leader asked them what they would do if they got out of prison.
Loughner replied: “I’m not going to ever get out.”
Pietz later testified that Loughner told her he was aware that he would never be out from behind bars: "I'm 23 years old. This is it. This is my life."
She said that when she asked him if he plans to harm himself or try to commit suicide behind bars, he responded: “I’m not going to answer that.”
Barber, who was shot twice during the rampage and later won a June special election to complete Giffords’ term after she stepped down to focus on her recovery, released a statement after the shooting.
“My hope is that what happened today in court can help all of us move forward and continue our healing process,” Barber said. “I believe justice was done today. It is important to me that this individual never again is in a position in which he can cause harm to anyone else. I am hopeful that this will be the result of today’s agreement when the sentencing hearing is held.”
Earlier in the day, Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, told the Wall Street Journal that Giffords was satisfied with the plea agreement.
“We don’t speak for all of the victims or their families, but Gabby and I are satisfied with this plea agreement,” Kelly said. “The pain and loss caused by the events of January 8, 2011 are incalculable. 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.”