Michael Kiefer, The Republic (Arizona)
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2011, a psychotic young man named Jared Loughner stormed a supermarket parking lot north of Tucson where a member of Congress was holding a meet-and-greet, pulled out a 9mm Glock 19 pistol and fired indiscriminately.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. She survived but eventually resigned her seat because of her injuries.
In the chaotic minutes before Loughner was wrestled to the ground by bystanders, he squeezed off 31 more shots.
Six people died and 13 were wounded, including Giffords. Loughner's mugshot - with his shaved and bruised head and his jack-o'-lantern grin - stared out from newspapers, TV sets and websites the world over.
Thursday, Loughner, now 24, will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Tucson. Under terms of the plea agreement hammered out by prosecutors and defense attorneys in August, Loughner will spend the rest of his life in prison, and given his fragile mental state, most likely in a federal prison psychiatric ward.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are forthcoming with the details of the hearing, nor with the case in general.
Sentencing hearings usually provide a chance for victims to speak their minds, and Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, are expected to attend. Kelly is expected to address the court on her behalf.
Loughner and his parents and friends will also have a chance to address the court.
Afterward, John Leonardo, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, has indicated he and some of the victims of the shooting will hold a news conference.
Earlier this year in federal court, Loughner pleaded guilty to two counts of murder of a federal employee and four counts of causing the death of a person at a federally sponsored event. The charges were for killing:
John Roll, 63, presiding U.S. District Court judge for Arizona.
Gabe Zimmerman, 30, one of Giffords' staffers.
Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old attending Giffords' event with an adult neighbor.
Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79, three retirees at the event.
Loughner also pleaded guilty to attempted assassination of a member of Congress for shooting Giffords, and various counts of attempted murder and injuring a person at a federal event.
The wounded were MavyStoddard (Dorwan's wife); George Morris (Dorothy's husband); Susan Hileman (Christina-Taylor's neighbor); Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer who filled her congressional seat; Pam Simon, another Giffords staffer; and event attendees Bill Badger, Kenneth Dorushka, Eric Fuller, Randy Gardner, Mary Reed, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.
Shortly after his arrest, Loughner's mental illness became readily apparent. In March 2011, he was ordered to a federal prison hospital in Missouri for evaluation. The following May, after being diagnosed as schizophrenic, he was found incompetent to stand trial and returned to Missouri to undergo restoration to competency.
His lead attorney is Judy Clarke, whose previous clients included "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph and Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who drowned her two children by driving her car into a lake. Clarke filed court challenges to keep prison officials from forcing anti-psychotic medicines on Loughner. Clarke took the matter several times to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But the forcible medication continued.
In February, Loughner was still incompetent to stand trial. According to his prison psychologist's notes, he had refused to believe that he had not killed Giffords.
Then, when he finally accepted the fact, he was despondent for failing.
But by April, the psychologist decided that Loughner was competent and able to assist his attorneys in his own defense. However, the psychologist worried that his mental health was fragile, and she doubted he could hold fast through the stress of an extended trial.
In August, information suddenly leaked out that Loughner would plead guilty to 19 of the 49 counts against him in exchange for a guaranteed sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.
Thursday's sentencing brings the federal case to a close.
However, Loughner could still be tried for murder and other crimes in Arizona state court. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has not yet said whether she will exercise that option.
Republic reporter Jaimee Rose contributed to this article.