Mark Kelly stared at the young man who, nearly two years ago, brought a gun to a Tucson plaza and shot Kelly’s wife in the head and killed six people.
The attack left Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman, partially blind, unable to use her right arm and struggling to piece together sentences, Kelly told a federal judge Thursday during the gunman’s sentencing. Jared Lee Loughner also wounded a dozen more outside a grocery store where Giffords had been shaking hands with constituents.
“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,” Kelly said. As he spoke, Giffords stood next to him, a symbol of resilience.
Loughner, 24, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for the rampage. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said that, although Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, he understood the potential consequences of the attack and even searched online for information about the death penalty beforehand.
Prosecutors decided not to seek a death sentence at the behest of the survivors and the families of those killed, said assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst, according to media accounts. “What you did was wrong,” Kleindienst said, “but they felt it wasn’t right to execute a man with a mental illness.”
On a blue-skied morning on Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner fired nearly three dozen shots into a crowd waiting to meet the Democratic congresswoman at a meet-and-greet in Tucson. Amid the chaos, passers-by wrestled Loughner to the ground. After the shooting, Loughner was sent to a federal prison hospital and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
“My children will forever remember … the smell of blood everywhere,” Mary Reed, who was shot in the arm that day, told the judge. “Mr. Loughner introduced my children to something sinister and evil.”
A gravely wounded Giffords resigned from Congress earlier this year, after making an emotional public appearance in Tucson exactly one year after the rampage. When Giffords hoisted her right hand to her heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in a clear, strong voice, the crowd of thousands wept and cheered. Giffords was succeeded by Ron Barber, who also was wounded in the shooting but saved, in part, by a bystander who staunched the bleeding with her bare hands. He was still locked in a battle for re-election Thursday.
“I hold no hatred for you, but I am very angry and sick at heart about what you have done, and the hurt you have caused all of us,” Barber said, according to accounts of the hearing. “You now must bear this burden and never again see the outside of a prison.”
During Thursday’s hearing and at a news conference that followed, survivors of the shooting recounted the carnage they witnessed and the psychological toll it had taken on them. Some also lobbied for more stringent gun laws and better mental health care. Kelly, in particular, referred to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and state lawmakers as “feckless” on the issue of gun control.
“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,” Kelly said according a copy of his prepared remarks.
All the while, according to media accounts, Loughner sat blankly at the defense table, a marked contrast to the image captured in his booking photo, wild-eyed and slightly smiling. After the shooting, he was sent to a federal prison hospital and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
His psychologist there previously testified that, after months of medication, Loughner now understands what he did and feels remorse, particularly over gunning down 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. “I especially cry about the child,” Loughner said, according to the psychologist.
Also killed in the rampage were federal Judge John Roll, Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Dorothy Morris.
Stoddard’s wife, Mavy, also addressed the courtroom Thursday, according to media reports, recounting how her husband heard gunfire and threw himself on top of her.
“I got out from under him. … I was screaming, ‘Oh God, oh God, help me,’” she said. “I said to him, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and he did. Therefore, I believe that he heard me say, ‘I love you.’” Her husband died about 10 minutes later.
“I am so lonesome. … I hate living without him,” she said. “No one to hold me, no one to love me, no one to talk to, no one to care.” But as a Christian, Stoddard said, she felt compelled to forgive Loughner.
As Stoddard spoke, according to reports from journalists inside the courtroom, Giffords turned to her husband and kissed him on the head.
The hearing marked the first time since the shooting that Giffords has been face-to-face with Loughner. When it was their turn to confront the shooter, Kelly and Giffords stood and looked directly at him. Loughner, who for months refused to believe Giffords had survived the shooting, returned the couple’s gaze.
“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,” Kelly said.
“You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did,” he added. “But after today, after this moment, here and now, Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”
Giffords, who did not speak, kissed Kelly when he finished. Then he took her hand and guided her back to their seats, with the former lawmaker limping.