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November 8, 2012

Jared Loughner sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 140 years

Largely because (and seemingly only because) federal prosecutors were willing to take the threat of a death penalty off the table, a very high-profile mass shooting in Arizona reach a sentencing result today less than two years after the crime.  This AP story, headlined "Life sentence in Ariz attack that wounded Giffords," reports on some of the basics:

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, partially blind, her right arm paralyzed and limp, came face to face Thursday with the man who tried to kill her last year, standing beside her husband as he spoke of her struggles to recover from being shot in the head.

"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," said astronaut Mark Kelly, both he and his wife staring at the shooter inside a packed courtroom. "Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at."

Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was then ordered to serve seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords, outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz.

Loughner pleaded guilty under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He avoids a federal death sentence, although state prosecutors could still decide to try him.

One by one, survivors of the attack at a Giffords political event approached the courtroom podium to address Loughner, each turning toward him where he sat stoic and emotionless at a table with his attorneys. "You took away my life, my love and my reason for living," said Mavanell Stoddard, who was shot three times and cradled her dying husband in her arms as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk after shielding her from the spray of bullets.

Susan Hileman, who was shot, spoke to him, at times visibly shaking. "We've been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking," she said. "Your parents, your schools, your community, they all failed you. It's all true," Hileman said. "It's not enough."...

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

Giffords didn't speak, but stood by Kelly and kissed her husband when he was done. He grabbed her hand and they walked away, her limping. Earlier, Loughner told Burns that he would not speak at the hearing.

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.

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....

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 also 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.

I am very interested to hear (especially from vocal death penalty advocate and opponents) whether folks think justice has now been served in this high-profile case. I am likewise interested to hear whether folks think Arizona prosecutors should now follow-up with state charges against Loughner.  

November 8, 2012 at 03:28 PM | Permalink


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The losses to the victims are tragic beyond belief .

Perhaps he can be persuaded to reveal more so that the medical professionals can figure out what had gone wrong .

We remain woefully ignorant about what makes the brain tick , especially when it comes to mass murder or such other evil conduct .

I fail to see a benefit for the State to try a defendant who might mentally self-destruct from the stress of a trial (according to the expert used for the Federal plea).

It escapes me why violent sociopaths select innocents as targets „ when they can unlawfully target evil „ predatory „ rogue prosecutors or judges* — which excludes those who ignorantly misinterpret the law .

* I met such a judge who deserved to be summarily executed on the spot „ however Ohio’s disciplinary protocol did not allow such protection of the public .

Death , severe disability „ or the voters remained the only option .
As I understand , that judge NEVER survived an election.

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Posted by: Anon. #3.14159 | Nov 8, 2012 3:54:07 PM

It's very difficult to judge from such a distance the degree of the defendant's mental impairment, but from what I am able to see, this was a just disposition.

A planned, multiple murder just for kicks is the very definition of a crime warranting the death penalty. The problem here is that there seems to be a decent amount of evidence that Loughner is pretty far out of his mind, sufficiently so as to warrant a degree of mitigation.

One condition I would have built into the plea deal is that Loughner waive all rights to file any further lawsuit, ever. If we're going to save money by putting aside the DP (the constant refrain of the Prop 34 losers), then let's go ahead and save it. Keeping a guy alive for the purpose of spending taxpayer money for the next 50 years as he files one suit after the next complaining about his confinement is not my idea of how to save money. If his confinement is harsh, too bad. This is what happens when you get caught after you've committed a massacre.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2012 4:39:56 PM

Realistically, I think this was the best disposition possible. On principle, I might say that if he truly is mentally deranged, it is not just to treat him as a criminal (though still confine him as long as he is a threat to others). But, we live in the real world, and on that front, I think this is okay.

I don't think Arizona should bring state charges. Note the division among the victims. This is standard -- there is no one "victim" idea of justice in many cases, though some speak in their name as if there is one.

As to the no lawsuit idea, yes, even the worse of the worst have some rights. Nuremberg handled that and it applies here. If he is truly deranged, the fact he did something horrible doesn't change that. If someone who is fully crazy is tortured in prison, it is not just 'too bad.' The state isn't allowed to do that. But, this is an old argument here with one side speaking in hyperbole & in response I note this and it's deemed stupid or something. His lawyers bringing lawsuits as long as he stays locked up is not really a big concern.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2012 4:56:01 PM

"On principle, I might say that if he truly is mentally deranged, it is not just to treat him as a criminal (though still confine him as long as he is a threat to others)."

The difference is to confine him in the "dangerous" wing of the mental hospital rather than the "mental" wing of the prison. How much difference is that? I don't know, but I suspect it is not large.

I'm sure this case will be used to make "disparity" and "arbitrariness" arguments, as earlier cases have been used. "That guy killed a lot more people, and he got life, but they want to sentence my client to death for merely torturing, raping, and killing one child." Yeah, but your client is not schizophrenic, just evil.

Schizophrenia is a terrible disease and a powerful mitigating circumstance. This is one of the very, very few cases where the defendant genuinely is sick in the true sense. I have no problem with the sentence.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 8, 2012 5:27:30 PM

Joe --

"As to the no lawsuit idea, yes, even the worse of the worst have some rights."

Yup, and those rights can be waived as part of a deal. He already waived his most important right, the right to a trial before he's put away for life.

"If someone who is fully crazy is tortured in prison, it is not just 'too bad.'"

Please cite all evidence you have specifically that Loughner will be "tortured in prison."

This man is a drain on society, and that's putting it far more charitably than he deserves. It's time to stop thinking about him and his hypothetical future problems and spend our tax money on people who deserve it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2012 6:36:45 PM

Bill, I didn't say he WOULD be tortured. I said "if" -- IF something truly nefarious occurs, I would not block all means of relief and petitioning the court would be a basic means there. A plea deal that totally blocked this would be unsound. Humans "deserve" basic things, especially those who do not actually sanely act, but act because of diseases of the mind.

I also don't know the difference, but even "not large" is notable given how bad prison can be (small things can mean a lot) and since punishment is supposed to be particularly harsh (as well as a message that the person is truly at fault), the difference is significant enough to be notable.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2012 11:01:32 PM

Bill: Say, I can pitch a ball at 95 mph. I sign a contract for $20 million salary. If it can be shown that this ability is based on a brain feature, should the contract be mitigated down to a $200,000?

All behavior is brain based. A paranoid brain that kills out of delusional motivation is more dangerous than that of a sociopath who kills for money. Insanity should be an aggravating factor. If the main purpose of the criminal law is public safety, then insanity should result in a greater fraction being executed and as soon as possible.

In 1976, the Supreme Court took over psychiatry for the lawyer profession. It stated that involuntary treatment required a hearing, hiring 3 lawyers, one to prosecute, one to defend, one to decide. Commitment had been based on clinical need, decided by 2 independent doctors. There was no abuse of patients. And any abuse had plenty of legal remedies, including criminal charges of false imprisonment.

To the families of the 2000 people killed by paranoid schizophrenics each year, thank the Supreme Court. Now Loughner qualifies for involuntary treatment. After several months, he may become a nice, friendly, ordinary person, with good functioning. Only, 6 people were killed, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 9, 2012 6:33:22 AM

Joe --

I asked you to produce all the evidence you had that Loughner will be, to use your exact word, "tortured" in prison. You produced none.

That's fitting, since there is none.

Given that reality, the cost to society of allowing Loughner continuously to file taxpayer-financed lawsuits alleging, e.g., that his cell should have 100 watt bulbs instead of 75 watt bulbs (which is actually the kind of suit these people file) considerably outweighs the cost to society of hedging against the (as you implicitly concede) essentially non-existent prospect of "torture."

This "torture" stuff is just an ACLU fantasy ginned up to yoke normal people into having to pay for nonstop frivolous lawsuits from headcases like Loughner with time on their hands and nothing to lose by trying.

Fine. You can take Loughner's side, and I will take the side of normal people.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2012 8:08:41 AM

Let's try this. WHY ask me? We don't know what is going to happen in the many decades he can be in prison. Horrible things happen in the world. That's why we have various safeguards, including judicial ones. The fact that they may rarely happen doesn't mean, e.g., some plane that never after 100 flights crashed should remove its expensive safety feature. I used "torture" as an extreme case to show why removing all ability to petition the court is an extreme argument.

Now, you are saying I am taking "Loughner's side." Really, Bill, please, a bit of perspective. I supported locking him up for life. Even you (and surely Kent) agree it looks like he is not some "evil" murderer, but a deranged sick individual. I am not talking about the frivolous sort of lawsuit you reference. I am saying he is a human being and some bare minimum level of care is required and if it is violated, yes, he should have the right to petition the court.

Honestly, safeguarding the well being of people as a whole is worth some frivolous lawsuits. If he peacefully in his own little world stays out of trouble and the return is a few frivolous lawsuits, who really cares? But, fine. Don't let him sue over light bulbs. But, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he will be mistreated. The history of mentally ill being mistreated is not fictional. IF that happens, he should be able to petition the court. I'm sorry if this is too much for you.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 9, 2012 9:37:19 AM

Joe --

"Let's try this. WHY ask me?"

Because you're the one who wants to give him perpetual access to the courts, at taxpayer expense. Thus it's not unfair to ask you to supply some concrete, realistic reason we should do so.

"I used 'torture' as an extreme case to show why removing all ability to petition the court is an extreme argument."

I believe you used "torture" to make your position seem more appealing than it would be if you had to rely on a more realistic scenario, such as, for example, the one I cited about the wattage of the bulbs in his cell.

"Now, you are saying I am taking "Loughner's side." Really, Bill, please, a bit of perspective."

I don't say you support his actions, of course not. But you do support him in the question we are now discussing, to wit, the extent to which he should have access to taxpayer money to complain about his confinement.

"Even you (and surely Kent) agree it looks like he is not some 'evil' murderer, but a deranged sick individual."

False dichotomy. He's both sick and evil. The huge majority of schizophrenics don't do anything like what Loughner did. He's way beyond just being "sick."

"I am not talking about the frivolous sort of lawsuit you reference."

But that's exactly the kind that actually gets filed, as I can tell you from years of experience in the USAO. And, once you allow him to file at all there is NO WAY to tell in advance what he's going to say. So you have to let him file anything he wants.

"Honestly, safeguarding the well being of people as a whole is worth some frivolous lawsuits. If he peacefully in his own little world stays out of trouble and the return is a few frivolous lawsuits, who really cares?"

It's exactly that kind of thinking that results in the massive overspending we have now: "Who really cares?" Well, it's time to care. We don't have the money to spend on frivolity any longer.

"I'm sorry if this is too much for you."

It has nothing to do with being "too much for me." It has a lot to do with my wanting to preserve the taxpayer dollars that -- in the context of cutting back on prison sentences -- liberals are falling all over themselves saying we MUST conserve.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 9, 2012 10:42:56 AM

The Prison Litigation Reform Act already puts strict limits on an indigent offender's opportunity to file frivolous suits about his conditions of confinement, so Bill needn't fret about endless suits over light bulbs. The same law contains a safety valve for truly egregious circumstances, so Joe needn't worry about access to the court in the hypothetical event of torture.

Posted by: arfarf | Nov 9, 2012 10:43:11 AM

If this event disturbs you, you should know that the FBI openly provokes individuals and when they don't respond, actually encourages them to act with violence. You can only read that story with a search for "New police weapon against homeless" and "Historic coverup of FBI and police crimes currently taking place". You will also read about a public defender who tried to coerce a plea bargain by threatening possible commitment to a mental hospital. Bill Anderson Middletown CT soxin8@hotmail.com Masters degree Harding University 1993

Posted by: Bill Anderson | Nov 9, 2012 11:12:17 AM

arfarf --

The PLRA can't do the job needed. Loughner will allege that he's being beaten daily by the guards and demand an evidentiary hearing. At the very minimum, the government will have to respond, and that response itself costs money. Now you might say, how much can one response cost? And the answer is, precious little -- but it won't be just one response, because Loughner will file the same suit (or some variant thereof) the next week, and the next, ad infinitum.

Why shouldn't he? The fact that he's lying every time will have no effect: He's already serving LWOP in maximum security. He doesn't give a hoot.

And yes, it might get to the point that the district court will just tell the clerk to refuse to file any more of his suits, but presumably Joe would object to that. One way or the other, I would just put a stop to it preemptively by putting a waiver in the plea deal.

Loughner is entitled to civilized treatment, and he's had it. It is now time for him to shut up and let the rest of us forget him.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 10, 2012 3:10:47 AM

Bill -

The PLRA requires the court to screen every civil complaint by a prisoner and to dismiss it BEFORE DOCKETING if it’s “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted.” That’s going to get rid of all complaints about light bulbs, cold coffee, or being supervised while brushing one’s teeth, which is a practice that the nut job in Norway (Breivik) is currently calling inhumane.

Yes, a charge of physical beating will survive the screening, and the government will have to respond the first time; maybe twice. But if such a complaint is filed just for amusement, that will become obvious because the prisoner won’t be able to produce any credible evidence. And if he files the same kind of complaint week after week, the court (not the clerk) will dismiss it week after week before docketing, because it is frivolous or malicious.

I don't think Joe is going to get upset about this because if the prisoner truly is tortured, he can break the cycle of peremptory dismissals by attaching documentary proof to his complaint, like a medical report describing his injuries or the declaration of an honest guard who was a witness.

Posted by: arfarf | Nov 10, 2012 11:24:16 AM

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