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Giffords shooter gets 7 life terms plus 140 years

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 7:16 p.m.

TUCSON — A federal court judge on Thursday sentenced shooter Jared Loughner to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years, calling the sentence “astronomical” and “justified” because the former student “knew what he was doing” when he killed six and wounded 13 at a 2011 congressional event sponsored by then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“The facts show he traveled there with the purpose of shooting Ms. Giffords,” U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said.

In an intense and emotional sentencing that lasted about 2- 12 hours, Burns ordered Loughner, 23, returned to a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., pending a decision from the federal Bureau of Prisons on where he ultimately will serve his sentence.

The hearing included testimony from Loughner's victims, several of whom faced him to address him directly.

Suzi Hileman, who was shot while shielding a 9-year-old friend she had taken to Giffords' event, told her assailant: “I wanted to take you by the shoulders and shake you and scream at you, as if that would help.”

Navy Comdr. Mark Kelly — Giffords' husband and a retired astronaut — accompanied his wife to the podium.

Giffords, clad in a green blouse and sporting shoulder-length blond hair, did not speak. Kelly, instead, addressed Loughner about the morning of Jan. 8, 2011, when Giffords was shot in the head. She survived but eventually resigned her seat because of her injury.

“Mr. Loughner: For the first and last time, you are going to hear from Gabby and me ... so pay attention,” Kelly began.

“You may have put a bullet in her head, but you haven't put a dent in her spirit or her commitment to make the world a better place.

“You tried to create a world as dark and evil as your own,” he said. “Remember this: You failed.”

Kelly also noted that for Giffords, “every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at. ... By making death and producing tragedy, you sought to diminish the beauty of life.”

Kelly and several victims spoke about the need for gun control laws and the lack of substantial mental health care in Arizona and the nation.

Though Loughner had a legal right to address the court, he declined to make a statement.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a written statement saying the sentence “means Jared Loughner will never again be free to hurt or menace the American public. or 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.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, John Leonardo, expressed hope that the case will call attention to the need for detection and treatment of mental illness.

“It seems likely that had Mr. Loughner not suffered from the mental illness of schizophrenia, he would not have committed these horrific acts,” Leonardo said in a written statement.

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