Loughner Competent, Pleads Guilty To Ariz. Shooting

Jared Loughner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to all counts related to last year's shooting spree in Tucson. Audie Cornish talks with Ted Robbins about the court proceedings, where the judge in the case found that psychiatric care and medication had rendered Loughner fit for trial. His plea was part of a deal with prosecutors that spared Loughner the death penalty.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Jared Lee Loughner will spend the rest of his life in prison. He's the young man who went on last year's shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona. Today, he pleaded guilty to 19 counts, taking a deal that spares him the death penalty. Six people were killed in that attack, including a federal judge. Thirteen were wounded, including then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

NPR's Ted Robbins has covered this story throughout, and was in the courthouse today, in Tucson. And Ted, I gather that today's hearing focused, in large part, on Loughner's mental state, correct?

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: It did, Audie, and it was a marked difference from the previous hearings. Much of it focused on Loughner's primary psychologist, Christina Pietz, who had been treating him at the federal psychiatric facility in Springfield, Missouri, for the - more than the last year. She described when he first got there, he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. And he had been ranting and - you know, not - hearing voices in his head, that sort of thing. He started to get medicated about a year ago. And gradually, Dr. Pietz said that he began to realize where he was, and what was happening.

And last July, in fact - here's part of a quote: "the assassination attempt, with murders I did. I cry about the child" - he said; that's a direct quote, talking about 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who he shot. And so - he said he was having thoughts and you know, he was tormented by them - in a normal, sort of a normal way. And she said he is restored to competence. He understands what's happening to him; he can cooperate with his defense attorneys; and he gathers the gravity of what he did. And that really is what competence is, in a legal sense.

CORNISH: Jared Loughner was in the courtroom. Did he say anything?

ROBBINS: He did. Federal Judge Larry Burns - after Dr. Pietz finished, it turned into a hearing on this plea deal, in which he pleaded guilty for - to 19 counts, including murders and attempted murders. And the judge asked him over and over again, do you understand what's going on? And he said yes. And each time - 19 counts - he says, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty? And he said, I plead guilty. He sat intently. He watched the judge. He was quiet but he answered, you know, directly. And he was - as I said, he was a different Jared Loughner than we had seen in court before.

CORNISH: Ted, I understand there were also a number of survivors of the shooting, and family members, in the court today as well. What has their response been to the guilty plea?

ROBBINS: Well, you know, I think the best - let me play a piece of tape from one of the victims who was wounded - Suzie Heilman. And she had been considering whether she wanted Loughner to receive the death penalty. And then she changed her mind. And here's what she said afterwards:

SUZIE HEILMAN: I thought about it. This is a result with which I am very happy. Given everything, this is the best result that I could hope to have.

ROBBINS: And Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords' husband, released a statement saying that the two of them hoped that the whole Southern Arizona community could continue with recovery, and move forward with their lives.

CORNISH: So is this truly the end of Jared Loughner's legal process?

ROBBINS: Almost. Judge Burns set a date in mid-November for sentencing. He will get consecutive life terms, without the possibility for parole. The county prosecutor could bring the death penalty, if she chooses. No word yet that she hasn't decided to do that.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ted Robbins. Ted, thank you.

ROBBINS: You're welcome.

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