Arizona shooting suspect likely faces death penalty

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 10, 2011 

This undated photo released by the Pima County Sheriff's Office shows shooting suspect Jared Loughner. (AP Photo/Pima County Sheriff's Dept. via The Arizona Republic)

PIMA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT

WASHINGTON — Jared Lee Loughner could face the death penalty in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting rampage that has shaken the country and is causing members of Congress to openly worry about their safety.

Hours after President Barack Obama led a national silent tribute Monday to the dead and injured victims of the Jan. 8 attack, Loughner made his first appearance in federal court in Phoenix.

The 22-year-old college castoff and Army reject faces one count of attempting to assassinate a member of Congress, two counts of murdering a federal employee and two charges of attempted murder of a federal employee.

Witnesses say Loughner came to a meet-and-greet event that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was hosting at a supermarket Saturday morning and shot her at close range through the left side of her head. He then fired into the crowd, killing six and wounding numerous others. Witnesses subdued him as he tried to reload.

Killed at the scene: John Roll, 63, the top federal judge in Arizona, and Gabe Zimmerman, 30, who worked for Giffords. Three other adults also were killed at the scene.

The final victim, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, died later at the hospital. Green was the granddaughter of former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Dallas Green. Ron Barber and Pamela Simon, both Giffords staffers, were among the wounded.

In addition to a possible death penalty for the murders of Roll and Zimmerman, Loughner could face life in prison for the attack on Giffords and 20 years apiece for the assaults on Simon and Barber.

Witness Patricia Maisch told reporters Monday that she took an magazine clip with 30 rounds in it from Loughner as he was pinned to the ground by two men whom she described as "heroes."

"Those two men where my heroes, because I believe they saved my life. I believe I was next to be shot," Maisch said.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., said she'd introduce legislation to ban the high-capacity gun magazines that Loughner used in the attack.

Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, said he'd offer legislation making it a federal crime to make criminal threats against members of Congress or their staffs.

"If the law says it is a crime to threaten the president, it should also be a crime to criminally threaten a representative, senator, federal judge or any of their staff," he said.

The shooting is changing the course of business in the nation's capital in other ways. In addition to prompting calls for more political civility, the incident has led federal lawmakers to re-evaluate their own security needs.

Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to say they'll carry firearms more often in their respective districts.

Over the weekend, the FBI in Denver, Colo., arrested John Troy Davis for assaulting a government employee after he allegedly made threatening phone calls to the district office of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

Court papers show Davis was upset about problems with his social security benefits when he told Bennet's staffers he "might come and shoot people." Davis called back later the same day and described himself as a schizophrenic in need of help before allegedly saying, "I'm just going to come down there and shoot you all."

If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison and, or, a $250,000 fine.

Meanwhile Monday, doctors in Tucson said they were encouraged that Giffords' condition has stabilized since she underwent emergency brain surgery Saturday.

Giffords remains in critical condition and is fighting for her life after a bullet entered her left temple and exited her forehead area.

Doctors, however, are pleased that the swelling in her brain hasn't progressed, said Dr. Michael LeMole, a neurosurgeon at University Medical Center.

"We're not out of the woods yet," LeMole said Monday.

Swelling typically peaks around the third day after surgery, and Lemole said doctors would breathe a "collective sigh of relief after the third or fourth day.

"Every day that goes by and we don't see an increase, we're slightly more optimistic."

Giffords continues to respond to minor commands to grip a finger or raise a thumb, LeMole said.

As he entered the crowded courtroom in Phoenix, Loughner, wearing a jumpsuit, appeared calm. His head was shaved and he looked older than his Internet photos. U.S. Marshals swarmed the courtroom.

Because of the capital murder charges, Jon Sands, federal defender for the District of Arizona, asked the court to appoint attorneys Judy Clarke and Mark Fleming of San Diego to represent Loughner.

"Given the gravity of the charges, the possibility of the death penalty, we believe that death-qualified counsel must be appointed," Sands wrote in a court filing on Monday. Sands said the out-of-state attorneys were needed because all other qualified attorneys in the state had cited potential conflicts or declined to represent Loughner.

Clarke, who appeared in court with Loughner, has represented high-profile clients such as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drove her car into a lake, drowning her two children.

In an interview on MSNBC, Pima County Attorney Barbara Lawall said state charges will be filed against Loughner on behalf of victims who weren't federal employees, but the timing of those charges isn't yet clear.

In all, Giffords and seven other shooting victims remain hospitalized. Five are in serious condition and two are in good condition.

Outside the White House, the president and the first lady observed a national moment of silence at 11 a.m. EST to honor the shooting victims.

President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama stood side by side with hands crossed, heads bowed and eyes closed as a crowd of government officials looked on. A similar scene unfolded on the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol, where about 800 congressional staff members paid their respects.

The event, which filled the massive east front and balconies surrounding it, was also meant as a statement that violence wouldn't deter Congress from its business.

Acquaintances described Loughner as a troubled, erratic man with a longstanding hatred for Giffords.

Media reports say that among the items taken from his home was a letter he wrote to Giffords, but never mailed. In the letter, Loughner allegedly described his anger toward Giffords. Authorities say Loughner had gone to a similar meet-and-greet that Giffords hosted in 2007. He later told friends that Giffords' provided an unsatisfactory answer to a question he posed of her at the event.

Army officials said Loughner tried to enlist in December 2008 but failed the initial screening after admitting to using drugs. Loughner didn't undergo urinalysis or other drug testing.

"It never got that far," said Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman.

(Lesley Clark, Nancy A. Youssef and Marisa Taylor contributed to this article.)

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