TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stood in federal court to face her would-be assassin on Thursday moments before he was sentenced to life in prison for killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Giffords, last year.
Jared Loughner, 24, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, received seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, under a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said the life sentences he imposed - one for each of the six people who lost their lives, and a seventh for the attempted assassination of Giffords - represented the individuality of the victims.
“He will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again,” Burns said before Loughner was led away by federal marshals.
Giffords suffered a head wound in the January 8, 2011, shooting that left her with speech difficulties, a paralyzed right arm, diminished sight and a limp.
Loughner, who sat through the proceedings without addressing the court, showed no emotion as his sentence was pronounced or during statements delivered in court by several survivors.
Giffords did not speak. Her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke on her behalf.
“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 told him, with Giffords standing at his side as she impassively faced her assailant.
Loughner, seated next to his lawyer, Judy Clarke, appeared to gaze back at them without expression.
“Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted,” Kelly told Loughner in a clear, ringing voice. “You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did. But after today ... Gabby and I are done thinking about you.”
Giffords resigned from Congress in January to focus on her recuperation.
Kelly also used the occasion to take a political swipe at Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch gun rights advocate, criticizing her for speaking out against calls to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones Loughner used, a week after the shooting.
He recalled her as saying that she didn’t think the shooting had “anything to do with the size of the magazine.”
He went on to note that the state legislature “thought it appropriate to busy itself naming an official Arizona state gun just weeks after this tragedy,” a proclamation Brewer signed.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson declined comment.
“On this solemn occasion, Governor Brewer isn’t interested in engaging in politics,” he said in a statement. “This is a day of justice and peace. Governor Brewer wishes both for the victims and their families.”
The proceedings marked a dramatic epilogue to a rampage of gun violence that shocked many Americans, added to the long-running debate over gun control and cut short the political career of Giffords, a rising star in the Democratic Party.
“For the victims, their families and the larger community impacted by this tragic event in our nation’s history, it is my sincere hope that this conclusion will help in their journey toward physical and emotional recovery,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
Loughner pleaded guilty in August in federal court to 19 charges, including murder and attempted murder, in connection with the shootings outside a Tucson area supermarket.
He admitted going to Giffords’ “Congress On Your Corner” event armed with a loaded Glock 19 pistol and 60 additional rounds of ammunition with plans to kill the Arizona Democrat.
Loughner shot her through the head at close range. Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green.
Court-appointed experts later said Loughner suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions. He was declared unfit to stand trial in May 2011 after he disrupted proceedings and was dragged, shouting, out of the courtroom.
Loughner was ruled mentally competent three months ago after being treated for psychosis at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He then agreed to plead guilty.
The U.S. Marshals Service said the judge has recommended that Loughner be returned to the Missouri facility and continue with his regime of anti-psychotic medication.
Few clues to the motives for the attack have emerged. Prison psychologist Christina Pietz has testified that Loughner had expressed remorse for the rampage and especially for the 9-year-old girl’s death.
His calm, quiet demeanor in court on Thursday contrasted sharply with the wild-eyed image of Loughner from an early mug shot that captured the then-bald defendant grinning maniacally into the camera.
Asked at the outset of the hearing by the judge if he had chosen to waive his right to make a statement, Loughner answered in a low voice, “That’s true.”
He was otherwise silent through the hearing, and made no attempt to avert the gazes of victims who testified before he was sentenced.
One of them was Giffords’ former congressional aide Ron Barber, who was also wounded and ended up serving out the rest of her term after winning a special election.
Barber ran in Tuesday’s election for a newly created U.S. congressional district in Arizona and was running neck-and-neck with Republican Martha McSally, with the outcome hanging on some 80,000 provisional and early votes that have yet to be tallied.
Speaking to Loughner’s parents, Amy and Randy, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom, Barber said, “Please know that I and my family hold no animosity toward you, and that I can appreciate how devastating the acts of your son were.”
Additional reporting by Jazmine Woodberry and David Schwartz; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Will Dunham and Jim Loney