Los Angeles -
Former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords confronted her would-be assassin face-to-face for the first time Thursday as he was sentenced to life without parole for killing six others.
Jared Loughner opened fire on January 8, 2011, outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was meeting with constituents. Among the dead were a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl and a member of the congresswoman's staff.
During a dramatic and emotional hearing, other victims and Giffords, who was shot through the head at pointblank range but made a remarkable recovery, confronted Loughner in person for the first time over the rampage.
“You may have put a bullet in her head but you haven't put a dent in her spirit,” said Giffords's astronaut husband Mark Kelly.
Judge Larry Burns said six of the 24-year-old's consecutive life terms were for the murder counts, while the seventh was for the attempted assassination of Giffords.
“He'll never have the opportunity to pick up a gun again,” said the judge, according to local NBC television affiliate KVOA. “Each of those victims was important... It reflects each of those individual lives.
“There is a symbolic nature in this... He should never get out of prison. I find this is just punishment. He will never have the opportunity to pick up a gun and do this again,” Burns added.
Loughner showed little emotion as a series of victims and relatives took turns to address him directly in the courtroom.
Kelly told him: “Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at,” adding: “Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day.
“You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But know this, and remember it always: You failed,” he added in a prepared statement.
The sentence, without the possibility of parole, was part of a deal with prosecutors under which Loughner pleaded guilty in August to the attack that also wounded 14 people, including Giffords.
Loughner Ä whose hair has grown back since an earlier mugshot photograph Ä sat hunched during parts of the proceedings. His only words were “Yes, sir” when the judge asked if he had agreed to decline comment.
Emotions ran high as other victims addressed him, some voicing anger but also forgiveness.
“You took away my life, my love, my reason for living,” said Mavanell Stoddard, whose 76-year-old husband Dorwan died trying to shield her from the bullets.
“I felt his body give... I was holding him as he died,” she said, but told Loughner: “I forgive you. I don't hate you. I hate the act,” according to tweets by KVOA.
“You forgot to shoot yourself,” she added, cited by NBC News.
Giffords sat in the second row of a packed court, and left the room at one point, CNN reported. Loughner's parents Amy and Randy sat quietly in the first row.
Mary Reed, who was shot twice, told how Loughner “was less than two feet (60 centimetres) away” when he opened fire, as she was shielding her daughter, KVOA reported.
Loughner's parents looked down as relatives were speaking, his mother apparently crying.
Ron Barber, who was shot in the leg in the massacre and was elected in June to replace his Democratic former boss Giffords in Congress, told Loughner he had to “pay the price of the terror, violence and injuries (he) caused.”
“I hold no hatred for you, but I am very angry and sick at heart about what you have done, and the hurt you have caused all of us,” he added. “You now must bear this burden and never again see the outside of a prison.” Kelly, commander of the last space shuttle flight, concluded: “Mr Loughner, pay close attention to this:
Though you are mentally ill, you are responsible for the death and hurt you inflicted upon all of us...
“You know this. Gabby and I know this. Everyone in this courtroom knows this. You have decades upon decades to contemplate what you did,” he added.
“But after today. After this moment. Here and now. Gabby and I are done thinking about you.” - Sapa-AFP