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Gabrielle Giffords improves, inspires; Jared Loughner sentenced

By ED ADAMCZYK, United Press International   |   Dec. 27, 2012 at 3:30 AM   |   Comments

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Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords showed marked improvement in 2012 from a gunshot wound to the head as the first anniversary of the assault at a Tucson supermarket passed and her assailant faced punishment.

Giffords, 42, sustained her injuries in a mass shooting outside the supermarket Jan. 8, 2011, that left six people dead and 13 injured. Her public appearances in 2012 were rare but emotional, beginning with a candlelight vigil in Tucson to mark the first anniversary at which she led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Two weeks later on the floor of the House of Representatives, she submitted her resignation from Congress and was praised by both parties as an inspiring symbol of courage.

Speaker John A. Boehner could be seen wiping away tears when Giffords walked up to the dais with her friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., to hand over an envelope with her letter of resignation. That evening she attended President Obama's State of the Union address. In June, she appeared at a rally in support of Ron Barber, her former aide, who won her House seat in a special election and in July she visited the French Alps with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

In September she recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., again with Wasserman-Schultz guiding her. Although stiff-legged and muffing a word or two, Giffords' presence on stage had a galvanizing and dramatic effect on the convention.

Throughout the year her recovery, including intensive speech and physical therapy to repair damage caused by a bullet entering her brain over her left eye, continued. Giffords remains partially blind, her right arm paralyzed and walking with a noticeable limp.

"She's back in Houston now," Kelly told MSNBC in May. "Back, doing her rehab, and she's in a great mood and she's getting better."

When Giffords and Kelly moved back to their Tucson home in August, it was considered a milestone in her recovery.

On Nov. 8, her right arm in a sling, she attended the sentencing in Tucson of the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, now 24, the first time the two had confronted each other since the shooting rampage in January 2011.

Jailed immediately after the attack, Loughner, whose victims included Christina Taylor Green, 9, and Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63, underwent psychological examination at a Springfield, Mo., prison hospital and was forcibly medicated following a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Loughner was found competent to stand trial Aug. 7. In a deal he pleaded guilty to 19 counts, down from the original 49, which spared him the death penalty.

At the competency hearing, psychologist Dr. Christina Pietz testified Loughner's feelings, over time, had changed from regret for failing to kill Giffords to remorse. Reading from notes, she said Loughner told her, "I especially cried for the child."

In Tucson's federal court Nov. 8, Judge Larry A. Burns sentenced Loughner to seven consecutive terms of life imprisonment and 140 additional years on counts including murder, attempted murder and attempted assassination of a member of Congress.

Loughner's only comment at the sentencing was "That's right," after Judge Burns asked if he had indeed waived his right to address the court, but Burns, noting he would not make "political statements" and had "no intention to change the law," questioned the wisdom in the sale of high-capacity magazines such as the one Loughner used in his 9-millimeter Glock pistol to carry out the attack.

"I don't understand the social utility of allowing citizens to have magazines with 30 bullets in them," Burns said from the bench.

Giffords did not speak at the sentencing in the packed courtroom, but seven other surviving victims did, as did Kelly, who denounced politicians "afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws." He singled out the Arizona state legislature, which "thought it appropriate to busy itself naming an official Arizona state gun, just weeks after this tragedy," and added: "After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora (all scenes of mass shootings since 1999), we have done nothing."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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