Former US representative Gabrielle Giffords limped to the front of the courtroom and stared silently as she came face-to-face for the first time with the man who tried to kill her.
Giffords stared at Jared Lee Loughner as he was sentenced on Thursday to seven life terms for the slayings that left six people dead in January last year, and for the attempted assassination of a member of the US Congress.
Giffords’ astronaut husband told Loughner what Giffords could not, before he was sentenced to seven life terms.
“Mr Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven’t put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place,” Mark Kelly said.
Loughner was ordered to serve the seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison, for the shootings that also wounded 13, including Giffords.
His guilty plea enables him to avoid a federal death sentence. No state charges will be filed.
The sentencing marked the end of a nearly two-year-long saga in which Loughner, who has schizophrenia, was forcibly medicated at a Missouri prison medical facility so he could be competent to understand the charges.
Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the plea 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 Loughner up for life.
One by one, his victims had the chance to tell him how his actions immeasurably changed their lives. They approached the podium to address Loughner, and asked the judge if they could turn to face him.
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.
Authorities said they will return Loughner to the Missouri prison facility, but it is up to prison officials whether he will remain there.
Legal experts had predicted that the only viable defense for Loughner was insanity, given the number of witnesses and video surveillance footage. Still, Loughner never mounted such a defense.
Burns said Loughner did not have an insanity case because the evidence indicated he was aware of his actions and knew they were wrong. An examination of Loughner’s computer showed the 24-year-old had researched Giffords and the federal death penalty beforehand.