Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp said hearing Jared Lee Loughner plead guilty on Aug. 7 to shooting and killing six people, and injuring 13 others on Jan. 8, 2011 is a milestone in a long road to recovery.
“I think it shows how well the system works, and is the best outcome we could have here,” Sharp said. “The healing process takes time and you have milestones along the way. This was one of those milestones. Now we don’t have to worry about there being a trial, and this being drawn out even longer.”
The plea agreement negotiated by Loughner’s attorneys and federal prosecutors not only meant something to the victims of the shooting, but also to Sharp and many of his officers who were first responders to the horrific scene at the Safeway parking lot on Ina Road when Loughner attempted to assassinate former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords lived, but six others died that day.
Sharp said the wounds for his officers were reopened with the recent mass shooting in Colorado where James Holmes allegedly went into a full movie theater and opened fire on the unsuspecting viewers of the newest Batman film
“Our officers worried about those first responders in Colorado and what would happen to them,” Sharp said. “Having the news that (Loughner) pleaded guilty helped add another layer of closure that we needed right now.”
Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath agreed with Sharp, noting his first thoughts after hearing the news was with the families and the victims.
“For Pima County, Oro Valley, Marana and the City of Tucson, this is a large step in the grieving process,” he said. “It is a beginning to a sense of justice being service. As a community, we have enough resources to heal, but our first thought is always with the victims and their families.”
For the victims, in general, the reaction to Loughner saying he is guilty was positive.
Shooting victim Mavy Stoddard, who was shot multiple times in the legs as Loughner shot and killed her husband Dorwan, did not attend the plea deal hearing, but she was happy with the outcome.
“I was thrilled to death,” Stoddard said. “I was just ecstatic that God had answered prayers when [Loughner] said he was guilty. Because that means just a sentencing and that will be it. We don’t have to worry about what is going to be next or go thorough a long trial and I think that is very promising. I thank Loughner, very, very much for it. Within in two years - it has been 19 months now - this thing should be done as far as the courts are concerned. Of course it will never be done in our hearts.”
After a short pause, Stoddard said, “I couldn’t even say his name until yesterday after he pleaded guilty and admitted what he had done. It just kind of stuck in my throat every time I tried to say it, I called him ‘the killer’.”
Each victim will be given an opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing in November. Stoddard, who plans to speak, hopes they will be able to demand that Loughner stay on his medication so he can keep his right mind.
In a statement before the Aug. 7 hearing, Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly said they support the plea agreement.
“Gabby and I have been in contact with the U.S. Attorneys’ Office throughout this process,” Mark Kelly said in a statement. “We don’t speak for all of the victims or their families, but Gabby and I are satisfied with this plea agreement. 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.”
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who was shot in the leg by Loughner, said he felt justice has been served. Barber, Giffords’ former aide, went on to win the special election to fill her seat after she retired in January to focus on her recovery.
Loughner now faces seven life terms in the sentencing hearing set for Nov. 15.
According to U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo, under the terms of the plea agreement, Loughner will be sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole.
“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,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.
(Editor’s Note: Randy Metcalf contributed to this story. Take the online poll, do you agree with the plea agreement?)