Jared Loughner is set to plead guilty Tuesday in the shooting attack that severely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to knowledgeable sources, as mental health officials believe he is now competent to understand the charges against him.
The assault killed six people and injured 13 at a gathering with the congresswoman’s constituents in Tucson.
At the hearing Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Tucson, psychiatric experts who have examined Loughner, 23, are scheduled to testify that they have concluded that despite wide swings in his mental capacity, at this time he comprehends what happened and acknowledges the gravity of the charges, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was still unfolding.
The terms of the plea arrangement remained unclear Saturday on whether Loughner would admit guilt to all or some of the charges in return for a lengthy prison sentence rather than risk a potential death penalty verdict at trial.
State prosecutors in Tucson initially said they would pursue charges against Loughner as well, but the federal government went first. They now would probably review their options and decide whether it would be wise to go forward.
Many of the victims of the Jan. 8, 2011, attack and their families are likely to attend the hearing in downtown Tucson, not far from the site of the attack. Survivors would be invited to testify about the assault and their injuries at a separate hearing yet to be scheduled, in which Loughner would be formally sentenced.
Loughner’s agreement to plead guilty, if finalized in court Tuesday, would probably end more than a year and a half of psychiatric evaluations and testing, including some periods in which he was medicated at a federal prison hospital. It also would close out complex legal disagreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys over his mental capacity.
The shooting on a quiet Saturday morning stunned the nation. A man with repeated episodes of bizarre behavior was able to easily acquire a Glock 9-mm semiautomatic pistol and ammunition, authorities said, and then open fire at the congresswoman’s event.
Capital punishment initially was on the table when federal prosecutors in Tucson obtained a grand jury indictment against Loughner, and they announced the case as one with “potential death penalty charges.”
The indictment said a search of Loughner’s home turned up a letter hidden in a safe in which Giffords thanked him for attending an earlier Congress On Your Corner event. Also allegedly in the safe was an envelope with handwriting that said “I planned ahead” and “My assassination” and Giffords’ name, “along with what appears to be Loughner’s signature.”
Among those killed were 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, born on Sept. 11, 2001, and U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll, the presiding federal judge there. Giffords, though seriously wounded in the head, has slowly been recovering. The Democrat has since resigned from Congress.