Both the defense and prosecution find a “life in prison” plea bargain appealing. The federal government gets the defendant to admit that what he did is wrong and that he knew it, and the defense gets to save a life.
Jared Lee Loughner was expected by most to plead guilty this morning to last year’s Tucson shooting spree in which six people lost their lives and 13 others were wounded. But first, a federal judge had to find him mentally competent. After hearing testimony from his Missouri prison psychologist and observing Loughner’s court behavior today, the judge was apparently satisfied and accepted the guilty plea. As a result of the deal, Loughner is now spared the death penalty. He will be sentenced to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole with sentencing scheduled for November 15th.
The rampage in Tucson was aimed specifically at former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who famously survived the incident despite being shot in the brain. During the hearing, Loughner’s psychiatrist testified that he at different times believed and doubted whether Giffords survived the shooting, saying sometimes that there was no way anyone could have survived being shot to the head and other times that he knew she was alive. The outcome was welcomed by some victims, including Giffords herself, as a way to avoid a lengthy, possibly traumatic trial and years of legal wrangling over a death sentence.
Loughner left behind a note suggesting he was plotting the Jan. 8, 2011, attack, which the government suggested showed he knew what he was doing. But his friends and co-workers said the 23-year-old Tucson man became mentally unbalanced after dropping out of school and losing his job, signs that he was suffering from deep mental trauma. Experts have since concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia which ultimately led to both sides agreeing to the deal. Officials at a federal prison have been forcibly medicating him with psychotropic drugs for more than a year.
In all, Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 criminal counts with 30 other charges being dropped.