TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty yesterday to going on a shooting rampage at a political gathering, killing six people and wounding 13 others, including his intended target, then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Loughner’s plea spares him the death penalty and came soon after a federal judge found that months of forcibly medicating him to treat his schizophrenia had made the 23-year-old college dropout competent.
At one point, Judge Larry A. Burns asked Loughner if he understood the charges against him and what the government would need to convict him.
“Yes, I understand,” Loughner replied.
The judge said that Loughner was a different person and that he is able to help his lawyers in his defense. Burns said that observing Loughner in the court left “no question that he understands what’s happening today.”
Loughner faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The outcome was welcomed by some victims, including Giffords herself, as a way to avoid a lengthy, possibly traumatic trial and years of legal wrangling over a death sentence.
“The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011, are incalculable,” Giffords said in a joint statement with her husband, Mark Kelly. “Avoiding a trial will allow us — and we hope the whole Southern Arizona community — to continue with our recovery.”
Experts had concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, and officials at a federal prison have forcibly medicated him with psychotropic drugs for more than a year.
Court-appointed pyschologist Christina Pietz testified for an hour about how she believes Loughner became competent. Loughner listened calmly without expression. His arms were crossed over his stomach, lurched slightly forward and looking straight at Pietz.
At one point, he smiled and nodded when psychologist mentioned he had a special bond with one of the prison guards.