POSTED: 3:02 p.m. HST, Aug 7, 2012
TUCSON, Ariz. >> Jared Lee Loughner agreed today to spend the rest of his life in prison, accepting that he went on a deadly shooting rampage at an Arizona political gathering and avoiding the prospect of a trial that might have brought him the death penalty.
His plea came after a federal judge found that months of psychiatric treatment made Loughner able to understand charges that he killed six people and wounded 13 others, including his intended target, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Loughner appeared relaxed and focused throughout the two-hour hearing, much of it devoted to a court-appointed psychologist’s account of his normal childhood, his teenage depression, his descent into schizophrenia as a young adult and his gradual recovery in prison to the point that she felt he was competent to face charges.
The psychologist and judge did most of the talking, as Loughner looked at them intently and leaned slightly forward with no expression, his arms crossed over his chest. He appeared to show emotion only once — smiling and nodding when the psychologist, Christina Pietz, reported that he formed a special bond with one of the guards at the Springfield, Mo., prison where he has been held.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns noted Loughner’s reaction to the prison guard comment when explaining his decision to declare him competent. He said Loughner was “tracking” the day’s proceedings well and appeared to be assisting his attorneys in his defense, a break from the past.
“He’s a different person in his appearance and his affect than the first time I laid eyes on him,” Burns said.
During the hearing, Loughner didn’t exchange words with his attorneys or glance around the courtroom, which was packed with victims. His parents, who observed from a back row, sobbed and embraced after he walked out looking frail on his feet and gazing straight ahead.
Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 counts, including attempted assassination of a member of Congress, murder and attempted murder of federal employees, and causing death and injury at a federally provided activity. As part of the agreement, the federal government dropped 30 other counts.
“I plead guilty,” Loughner said repeatedly in a baritone voice as Burns listed each count.
His hair closely cropped, Loughner was not the smiling, bald-headed suspect captured in a mug shot soon after the January 2011 shooting. His demeanor was a complete turnaround from a May 2011 courtroom outburst that prompted Burns to declare him incompetent.