Giffords, Kelly to attend Loughner sentencing

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Gabrielle Giffords, former US Representative of Arizona, celebrating with her former district director Ron Barber (l-r) after he won special election to fill her congressional seat, Tucson, Arizona

Gabrielle Giffords, former US Representative of Arizona, celebrating with her former district director Ron Barber (l-r) after he won special election to fill her congressional seat, Tucson, Arizona, in June. (AP photo)

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The 24-year-old man who pleaded guilty to the deadly Arizona shooting rampage at a political meeting last year is likely to come face to face in court Thursday with some survivors of the attack, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Jared Lee Loughner will be sentenced under terms of a deal with federal prosecutors for the January 2011 shootings that left six people dead and 13 wounded outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store.

According to prosecutors, some victims will comment before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sentences Loughner. A source close to the family who was not authorized to release the information confirmed to The Associated Press that Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, would be in court, and that Kelly would make a statement.

Loughner pleaded guilty three months ago to 19 federal charges under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. The deal calls for the dismissal of 30 other charges and a sentence of seven consecutive life terms, followed by 140 years in prison.

Both sides reached the deal after a judge declared that Loughner was able to understand the charges against him. After the shooting, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.

Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the deal as a way to move on. It spared victims and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and locks up the defendant for life.

Ron Barber, a former Giffords staffer who was shot in the cheek and thigh during the attack and later won election to her seat when Giffords stepped down, plans to make a statement, said his spokesman, Mark Kimble.

Suzi Hileman, who was shot three times while trying to save her 9-year-old neighbor, and Mavy Stoddard, whose husband died shielding her from bullets, plan to address the court.

“He has to pay the consequences for what he did, and justice will be served,” Hileman said.

Judy Clarke, Loughner’s lead attorney, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Christina Pietz, the court-appointed psychologist who treated Loughner, had warned that although Loughner was competent to plead guilty, he remained severely mentally ill and his condition could deteriorate under the stress of a trial.

When Loughner first arrived at a Missouri prison facility for treatment, he was convinced Giffords was dead, even though he was shown a video of the shooting. He eventually realized she was alive after he was forcibly medicated.

It’s unknown whether Pima County prosecutors, who have discretion on whether to seek the death penalty against Loughner, will file state charges against him. Stephanie Coronado, a spokeswoman for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, said Wednesday that no decision had been made.

It’s unclear where Loughner will be sent to serve his federal sentence. He could return to a prison medical facility like the one in Springfield, Mo., where he’s been treated for more than a year. Or he could end up in a prison such as the federal lockup in Florence, Colo., that houses some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

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