RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
For more than a year and a half, victims of last year's January shootings in Tucson have been looking for closure. For some, that moment has come. The man who killed six people as he tried to assassinate Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford will spend the rest of his life in prison. Jared Loughner also wounded 13 people, including Giffords. A federal judge in Tucson ruled, yesterday, that the 23-year-old is now mentally competent to stand trial. The judge then accepted Loughner's guilty plea. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: It was a different Jared Loughner in the courtroom Tuesday. Different from the grinning young man in the police booking photo. Different from the ranting prisoner, avoiding eye-contact in an earlier hearing. This Jared Loughner listened attentively as psychologist Christina Pietz testified before Judge Larry Burns. It was Pietz who, more than a year ago, diagnosed Loughner with schizophrenia and concluded that he was not mentally competent to stand trial.
Over the last year, Pietz said medication, group therapy and interaction with prison staff have brought Jared Loughner to a point where he is competent. He can aid in his defense. He understands what he did and he even shows remorse. I especially cry about the child, she quoted him as saying. Loughner killed nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green as she stood in line to meet Gabby Giffords.
Following Pietz' testimony, Judge Burns ruled that Loughner is competent, but the prosecution, the defense, and most of the victims, agreed a long, painful trial was not a good idea for anyone. U.S. Attorney for Arizona, John Leonardo.
JOHN LEONARDO: Not only the defendant's past and current mental state, but also the fragility of his continued competency to stand trial was taken into account. The attorney general also considered the wishes of all the victims and their families in making his decision,
ROBBINS: The decision was to drop pursuit of the death penalty in exchange for Loughner's guilty plea. Judge Burns repeatedly asked Loughner if he understood what he was doing. Loughner responded yes. Then the judge asked how he pleaded. I plead guilty, said Loughner, to each of 19 counts. He'll get concurrent life terms without possibility of parole.
RON BARBER: It is important to me that this individual never again is in a position in which he can cause harm to anyone else.
ROBBINS: Ron Barber was shot twice in the rampage. He was an aide to Giffords then. In June, he was elected to serve out her Congressional term. He's now running for a full term. Barber said he was hopeful the legal resolution would help Tucson heal.
Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly issued a similar statement. Several victims have begun campaigning for politicians to at least talk about stopping gun violence. Others, like Suzi Hileman, talked about the need for people to speak up when they suspect someone with mental illness could be a threat. And, following more rampages in Colorado and Wisconsin, Suzi Hileman said she's just plain tired of shootings.
SUZI HILEMAN: It's just enough. It's ripping the Band-Aid off, time after time after time. This is America. We are better than this.
ROBBINS: Jared Loughner will be sentenced in November. But for all practical purposes, the Tucson shooting case is over.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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