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Jan. 8 survivor satisfied with shooter’s guilty plea

Suzi Hileman

Jared Lee Loughner will spend life in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to 19 charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Thank God that he pled guilty and there won’t be a trial,” said Suzi Hileman, a Jewish Tucsonan who was seriously injured in the shooting. “I couldn’t go through that day again.”

Among those killed was 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who’d accompanied Hileman, her neighbor, to meet their congresswoman at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in front of a northwest Safeway.

Giffords, the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona, was shot in the head and continues to undergo intensive therapy. She stepped down from the House of Representatives in January 2012.

A statement released Tuesday by Giffords’ husband,former  astronaut Mark Kelly, said they are satisfied with the plea agreement and that 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.”

Loughner had previously pleaded not guilty to 49 charges connected with the shooting. The change in plea will allow him to avoid the death penalty. Loughner will receive seven consecutive no-parole life terms, according to the Arizona Daily Star, with the possibility of an additional 140 years in prison when he is sentenced on Nov. 15. Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Court-appointed forensic psychologist Christina Pietz testified Tuesday that he was competent to enter a plea after months of psychiatric treatment, including medication.

“I’m very, very sad,” Hileman, a retired social worker, told the AJP Tuesday. “A 23-year-old man is going to spend the rest of his life in a box. He knows it. He knows why.” Her voice broke as she said, “I’m very sad that Christina and all the others are dead. So many people – mothers and children – are damaged.”

Hileman has attended all the hearings determining Loughner’s competence to stand trial, except the first one, which took place as she was getting out of the hospital after the shooting.

“He took responsibility for what he did” at Tuesday’s hearing, she said. “It’s very sad that nobody tried to help him.  He was treated for depression in high school when his girlfriend broke up with him and his grandma died. But that was it,” she said.

“What shines from this is America,” said Hileman. “It’s exactly 19 months since [the shooting]. The justice system worked. The prosecution, the advocates and everyone treated us like family. They respected what we needed.”

The shooting victims who attended Tuesday’s hearing “were all saying today that Tucson loves us,” said Hileman. “And we love Tucson. We’re all healing together.”