After 22 months, Suzi Hileman finally got to step into a courtroom and confront Jared Lee Loughner, the man who killed six people and wounded her and 12 others who’d come to meet with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a Tucson Safeway on Jan. 8, 2011.
“I have wanted to speak to him since it happened,” Hileman, a Jewish Tucsonan, told the AJP. “It had nothing to do with him. It had more to do with me. I’m not used to being passive. I’ve been on the receiving end of bullets, of surgeries, of such sadness because of him.”
On Nov. 8, the 24-year-old Loughner was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences and 140 years by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in the Special Proceedings Courtroom at Tucson’s federal courthouse. His guilty plea enables the convicted killer to avoid a federal death sentence. State Prosecutors said they wouldn’t file separate charges, “largely to spare the victims continued pain, and given that Loughner will never see freedom again,” according to the Arizona Daily Star. “The sentence marked the end of a nearly two-year saga in which Loughner, who has schizophrenia, was forcibly medicated at a Missouri federal prison medical facility so he could be competent to understand the charges against him.”
“He’s a seriously ill young man and he has been for a long time,” says Hileman, a retired social worker. “It’s heartbreaking to me that a kid who’s younger than my children will spend the rest of his life in a box. But he armed himself with a weapon and pulled the trigger. He shot me three times. He killed a nine-year-old girl. He put a bullet in Gabby’s brain. He has to pay for that.”
Before the Nov. 8 hearing, the former congresswoman entered the waiting room with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. “Gabby looked at me — with her eyes sparkling and her smile radiant — and pumped her fist, saying, ‘Strong, strong,’” says Hileman. “‘If she can do this, I can,’ I thought to myself.”
At the hearing, Hileman stood at a podium with her husband, Bill, by her side, turned to Loughner and read her statement.
“You turned a civics lesson into a nightmare,” she said. “That Saturday morning was filled with sunshine and smiles and excitement. We were gathered to participate in the process. We had made time in our lives to tell your congresswoman how government could better work for you.
“For you, you were part of society then. Your congresswoman. For whom you could have voted…or not. For whom you could have campaigned…or not. It was an opportunity to witness democracy in action. We brought our wives, our husbands, our children, our friends’ children.
“You brought a gun.”
At the hearing, says Hileman, there were things “I needed to get off my chest. I think my words hung there between us. He has agreed to take medication. Now he’s a heavily medicated young man who’s seriously ill. It’s so sad that it took such violence for him to get treatment.”
The general consensus among victims who spoke at the hearing, she says, is that “we’re comfortable with the resolution” bypassing the death penalty. Even Hileman’s 90-year-old mother, Esther Annis, told her, “Don’t let him bring you down to his level.”
Following the sentencing, “All I care about is he can’t hurt me or anybody else. I had a plan and he hijacked my agenda,” says Hileman. “He’s occupied enough space in my soul. There’s no appeal for seven consecutive life sentences. This is done, fartik,” she says, using the Yiddish word for “finished.”