'You put a bullet in her, but you didn't dent her spirit'

Gabrielle Giffords confronts Jared Lee Loughner in court

Los Angeles

Almost two years after he opened fire on a crowd outside a Tuscon supermarket, killing six people and injuring another 14, Jared Lee Loughner has once more come face to face with his most famous victim, the former US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The 24-year-old gunman, a college dropout with a history of psychiatric disorders, appeared in court near to the scene of his crime yesterday. Under a plea bargain which saved him from execution, he was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in prison, without chance of parole.

A hushed courtroom watched as a string of his victims took the stand to tell Loughner the impact of his shooting spree on their lives. They were led by Mark Kelly, astronaut and husband of Ms Giffords, who told how the attack had left her partially paralysed, with speech difficulties, and diminished sight.

"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," he said. "Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day. Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at. By making death and producing tragedy you sought to diminish the beauty of life. Although you were mentally ill, you were responsible. You now have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did, but from this moment, Gabby and I are done thinking about you."

Ms Giffords, a Democrat, gave up her house seat in January. Her aide, Ron Barber, served the remainder of her term, after winning a special election. Barber is currently waiting on an official recount to discover whether he managed to narrowly hold onto the seat at Tuesday's election.

Mr Kelly injected a sharp political note into yesterday morning's proceedings when he criticised Arizona's right-wing Governor, Jan Brewer, for denying that the State's gun laws, which are among the most relaxed in the developed world, were responsible for the scale of the killings.

Despite his documented history of psychiatric problems, Loughner was able to legally purchase not only a Glock pistol, but also an extended magazine for it, from a sporting goods store at a retail park near his home.

The 30-round magazine was legalised when George W Bush allowed an assault weapon ban to lapse in the mid-2000s. It dramatically increased the number of people Loughner was subsequently able to shoot.

"Jan Brewer said [the deaths] had nothing to do with the size of the magazine," said Mr Kelly. "She said this just one week after you used a high-capacity magazine." He further noted that Ms Brewer had seen fit, a few weeks after the 2011 attack, to devote her time to introducing an official "state gun" to Arizona.

Other victims who spoke yesterday included Mavanell Stoddard, who was shot three times and saved from death by her husband, who shielded her from further bullets before bleeding to death on the pavement. "You took away my life, my love and my reason for living," she told Loughner.

Susan Hileman, who was also wounded, looked directly at Loughner as she addressed him. "You pointed a weapon and shot me three times," she said. "And now I will walk out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I won't think of you again."

Loughner, whose victims had included a nine-year-old girl, showed little remorse. At an earlier hearing, he had pleaded guilty to going to a "Congress on Your Corner" event organised by Ms Giffords with the intent to kill. His exact motives remain unclear, though court psychiatrists have diagnosed him with schizophrenia.

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