Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty on Tuesday, as expected, to killing six people and wounding 13 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting spree at a grocery store just outside of Tucson, Ariz.
Loughner's plea, coming after a federal judge ruled that he was competent to stand trial, means he will not get the death penalty. He now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Tuesday, Judge Larry A. Burns asked Loughner—who has been treated for schizophrenia since the shooting—if he understood the charges against him.
"Yes, I understand," Loughner replied.
According to the Associated Press, officials at a federal prison have forcibly medicated Loughner with psychotropic drugs for more than a year, leading the judge to conclude he was mentally fit to enter a plea.
In a statement, Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, said the couple is satisfied with the plea deal.
"We don't speak for all of the victims or their families, but Gabby and I are satisfied with this plea agreement," Kelly said. "The pain and loss caused by the events of January 8, 2011 are incalculable. 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 was Loughner's intended target in the 2011 rampage. He pleaded guilty to a total of 19 charges, including the murders of U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman--both federal employees--and the attempted assassination of Giffords and Ron Barber, who succeeded Giffords as the U.S. representative from Tucson.
"It is my hope that this decision will allow the Tucson community, and the nation, to continue the healing process free of what would likely be extended trial and pre-trial proceedings that would not have a certain outcome," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "The prosecutors and agents assigned to this matter have done an outstanding job and have ensured that justice has been done. In making the determination not to seek the death penalty, I took into consideration the views of the victims and survivor families, the recommendations of the prosecutors assigned to the case, and the applicable law."
"Given the defendant's history of significant mental illness, this plea agreement, which requires the defendant to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison, with no possibility of parole, is a just and appropriate resolution of this case," U.S. attorney John S. Leonardo said. "I hope that today's resolution of this case will help the victims, their families, and the entire Tucson community take another step forward in the process of healing and recovering from this sad and tragic event."
More details on Tuesday's hearing from inside the courtroom (via AP):
Court-appointed psychologist Christina Pietz testified for an hour about how she believes Loughner became competent. Loughner listened calmly without expression. His arms were crossed over his stomach, lurched slightly forward and looking straight at Pietz.
At one point, he smiled and nodded when psychologist mentioned he had a special bond with one of the prison guards.
Pietz says medication appears to be working because Loughner has said he feels badly about what he did. She says he has cried and apologized. "He has become human," she says.
The courtroom was packed, and roughly 80 people watched the hearing from an overflow room. Tucson shooting victims filled up four rows, or about a third of the courtroom. Barber, who took Giffords' seat in the U.S. House, sat up straight in the front.
Loughner arrived here on Monday from a psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Mo.—where he has been held for more than a year—and spent the night at a medium-security federal prison before his hearing on Tuesday.