“The facts show he traveled there with the purpose of shooting Ms. Giffords,” Burns said. Burns imposed the sentence after a long and dramatic hearing that included testimony from Loughner’s victims. During the hearing, Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly looked intently into the eyes of Jared Loughner and left him this message: “You tried to create a world as dark and evil as your own. Remember this: You failed.” Those were the words of Kelly, who spoke for Giffords about the brutal shooting 2011 shooting spree in a supermarket parking lot near Tucson.
Kelly and Giffords approached the podium together. Giffords, wearing a green blouse and sporting shoulder length blonde hair, gazed intently at Loughner as Kelly, speaking for her, told the shooter, “Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day.” “Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at,” Kelly said. He also told Loughner, “By making death and producing tragedy you sought to diminish the beauty of life.” The drama was intense as victims each took a turn testifying at the hearing.
The courtroom filled quickly for Thursday’s 10 a.m. sentencing for Loughner, 23. A long line formed early Thursday to enter the William D. Browning Special Proceedings Room at the Evo A. DeConcini federal courthouse. Some of those attending had been in line since 6 a.m. The first to take the stand once sentencing began was Christina Pietz, Loughner’s prison psychologist, who told the court she interacts daily with Loughner. She said his mental health is steadily improving and she believed him to be competent to understand the proceedings against him and to face sentencing despite his mental illness. As Pietz spoke, Loughner stared down at the table before him. Though he had a legal right to address the court, Loughner declined to make a statement. As Judge Larry Burns began to impose the sentence, Giffords stared intently at Loughner.
The first witness to testify was Patricia Maisch, who said the mental health system had failed and that true justice in Loughner’s case was impossible. Loughner’s parents sobbed as she spoke. “I need him to know where he is and why … to remember every day what he did and the horror he set loose,” Maisch said. One after another, victims took the stand to tell Loughner about the damage he had done to their families and their lives. The fiancee of Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the melee, spoke of raising their daughter alone. Susan Hileman, who was shot three times, looked directly at Loughner as she told him, “You turned a civics lesson into a nightmare.”