TUCSON -- The final chapter of the deadly Tucson shooting saga played out in a federal courtroom Tuesday when suspect Jared Loughner was found competent by a judge to stand trial and immediately pleaded guilty to 19 charges, including the wounding of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Prosecutors agreed in exchange not to seek the death penalty. Instead, Loughner has agreed to a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Loughner pleaded guilty to 19 charges, with U.S. District Judge Larry Burns dismissing 30 others. Sentencing is set for Nov. 15.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said the Pima County Attorney's Office, which could still prosecute Loughner in state court, did not participate in the plea agreement. He said his office has not been informed about what Pima County prosecutors plan to do.
Pima County County Barbara LaWall's office did not respond to inquiries about the matter from The Arizona Republic.
Loughner's plea included guilty pleas for the murders of U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman. It also included guilty pleas for the attempted assassination of Giffords and the attempted murders of Giffords employees Pam Simon and Ron Barber. Barber succeeded Giffords as U.S. representative from Tucson.
All are or were federal employees.
Loughner also pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of the others killed at Giffords' constituent event at a grocery store just outside of Tucson. Because it was an official congressional event, it was a federally protected activity.
There was stillness in the courtroom as the judge read the names of those killed, wounded or placed in danger during the shootings.
The maximum sentence for the crimes is mandatory life in prison without eligibility for parole. Loughner's defense lawyer, Judy Clarke, said her client's plea agreement carries multiple life sentences.
Before today's hearing began, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said if the plea deal took effect, Loughner would be sent back to Missouri. First, however, Loughner was expected to spend three or four days in Tucson to visit with his parents.
In making his pleas to the judge, Loughner admitted that he planned to use his weapon to kill Giffords and others attending her Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8, 2011. He also admitted intending to injure or kill others attending the event. The shootings left six dead and 13 wounded.
The plea agreement requires Loughner to waive ownership of the Glock pistol, ammunition and 12-gauge shotgun seized at shooting scene last year. He also must forfeit any future money he may be offered to write his story or give interviews.
The deal was finalized in court early Tuesday afternoon after Burns found Loughner mentally competent to stand trial in light of evidence presented at the hearing and testimony on the professional observation of experts.
"My personal observations of him leave no questions in my mind that Loughner knows what's going on today," Burns said.
Lougher later told the judge he understood he was giving up the right to contest his guilt, and that the mandatory minimum penalty was a life sentence.
"Is that what you want to do? Have you made that choice to give up those rights and plead guilty?" Burns asked. Loughner, looking attentively at the judge, replied, "Yes."
At that point, his demeanor was very different from prior hearings in which he seemed lackadaisical and unfocused.
Tuesday's behavior seemed in keeping with what Dr. Christina Pietz, Loughner's forensic psychologist, told the court during the hearing. She said she believed Loughner was competent to stand trial after spending months in a prison psychiatric hospital in Missouri.
Loughner, dressed in a khaki uniform, sat quietly in the courtroom as Pietz described her review of 2,000 pages of Loughner's journal, computer entries and other material. From that, she concluded that he had shown signs of depression since 2006 and may have developed symptoms of schizophrenia in his junior year of high school.
Between 2008 and 2010, Loughner's parents and friends became concerned that he would commit suicide because of his depression, and started a suicide watch. In one video he filmed of himself, he said he was so depressed he wanted to assassinate someone.
When Pietz diagnosed Loughner with schizophrenia after the shootings in 2011, he was described as being "disappointed, upset." He told Pietz he wished he took depression medication, Pietz said. She said she believed medication had subsequently helped Loughner because he began making comments about feeling badly about what he had done. He also showed some understanding of his actions, saying he wanted to be executed, and crying about a child's death in the event.
Pietz also said Loughner expressed shock that Giffords survived, telling her he was disappointed that he failed to kill the lawmaker. He said of himself, "Jared is a failure."
Since being imprisoned, Loughner expressed interest in having a job, which Pietz said was a sign of mental competency. He now works two prison jobs, one rolling towels for inmates.
Pietz said she believed Loughner to have a factual, rational understanding the role of a jury, a judge, prosecutors and judicial proceedings. During inmate group competency therapy, Loughner was asked what he would do if he left prison. He replied, "I'm never gonna get out."
Loughner is also able to orient time and place, and no longer shows signs he is hearing voices or other auditory stimuli.
If he were moved to general prison population, Pietz said, she would not be concerned he would harm anyone as long as he is medicated. However, she added, "My concern is someone will harm him."
Pietz emphasized that Loughner had never been forcibly medicated in prison. She called it passive involuntary medication, because he had never refused it.
News of the pending plea agreement spread quickly Monday, resulting a gaggle of media descending on the Tucson courthouse to cover the event. The courtroom was packed, and roughly 80 people watched the hearing from an overflow room.
Tucson shooting victims filled four rows or about a third of the courtroom, with Barber, who took Giffords' seat in the U.S. House, sitting up straight in the front.
Earlier Tuesday, Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, said in a statement that he and Giffords were satisfied with the proposed plea agreement.
"The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011, are incalculable," said Kelly, who did not attend the hearing. He said he and Giffords have been in touch with the U.S. Attorney's Office throughout the legal process. "Avoiding a trial will allow us -- and we hope the whole southern Arizona community -- to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives."
Giffords and Kelly have been out of the country, hosting a long-planned cruise of the Mediterranean that docked in Rome Monday. They have not yet returned home to Houston, where Giffords has been undergoing outpatient therapy for her brain injury.
In July, Giffords and Kelly were photographed together at a summit of the French Alps. Kelly was visiting a nearby mountain research station with other astronauts to commemorate their shuttle missions.
After the 2011 shootings, Loughner was indicted on 49 counts, including several which could have been punishable by death were he convicted. But questions about his sanity emerged immediately.
Burns ordered him to undergo psychological evaluation in early March 2011 at the request of the prosecution, and then sent him to the federal prison hospital in Missouri.
He was back in court in Tucson at the end of May for his first competency hearing, but he had to be removed from the courtroom after going into a rant in which he indicated that he believed he had killed Giffords.
"Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness," he said.
Loughner was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent back to Missouri to undergo restoration to competency. Competency is defined as being able to understand the court proceedings and assist his attorneys with his defense. Court documents said he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.
But he refused to cooperate with restoration efforts, and after prison officials determined he was a danger to himself and others, they forced him to take medication. Clarke, Loughner's attorney, objected on numerous grounds, saying that the government was trying to make an end-run around the law by using the dangerousness argument to make him take the same drugs used in restoration of schizophrenics.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals briefly took Clarke's side and stopped the medication while it reviewed the issue. But after another incident at the hospital in July 2011, prison officials decided to require the medication again, and this time the 9th Circuit upheld the medication.
Loughner was calm at his next Tucson court appearance in September 2011, but Burns found him still incompetent and sent him back to Missouri for four more months.
Clarke continued her appeals. According to Clarke's filings in the 9th Circuit, by March 2012, Loughner was on a drug regimen that included anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and a drug to counteract symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease.
The restoration ended in late May. Loughner was scheduled to appear in Tucson on June 27. If Loughner remained incompetent, the government would eventually have to drop charges against him and initiate a civil commitment to a mental institution.
But when Clarke and prosecutors filed a joint motion to postpone the hearing until Aug. 6, it signaled that they might be working out a deal.
News leaked out last Saturday night that Loughner might be found competent and enter into a plea agreement.
On Monday, in an order written by Burns, it was learned that Clarke had requested the change-of-plea hearing.
Clarke could have attempted an insanity defense, but history shows that juries are leery of not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdicts. Loughner could easily have been found guilty and sentenced to death.
The deal apparently made sense to the prosecution as well. If they went to trial, they ran the risk that Loughner's delicate mental state could deteriorate. There would be a chance he'd be found not guilty by reason of insanity. There would be a greater chance that any conviction would be vigorously appealed, and Loughner might not have been competent at the time of his execution.
Republic staffers Bob Ortega, Jaimee Rose and 12 News staffer Joe Dana contributed to the report.