by Michael Kiefer and Sean Holstege, The Arizona Republic
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly looked intently into the eyes of Jared Loughner in a courtroom Thursday and left him this message: "You tried to create a world as dark and evil as your own. Remember this: You failed."
Those were the words of Mark Kelly, who spoke for Giffords at Thursday's sentencing of the man who killed six and wounded 13 during a brutal shooting 2011 shooting spree in a supermarket parking lot near Tucson.
Loughner was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences and 140 years.
Kelly was among a large group of Loughner's victims who spoke at the hearing before the judge formally imposed a sentence on Loughner.
Kelly and Giffords approached the podium together. Giffords, wearing a green blouse and sporting shoulder length blonde hair, gazed intently at Loughner as Kelly, speaking for her, told the shooter, "Gabby would trade her own life for one you took on that day."
"Every day is a continuous struggle to do the things she was once so very good at," Kelly said. He also told Loughner, "By making death and producing tragedy you sought to diminish the beauty of life."
The drama was intense as victims each took a turn testifying at the hearing.
The courtroom filled quickly for Thursday's 10 a.m. hearing, at which Loughner, 24, was sentenced for the shootings. A long line formed early Thursday to enter the William D. Browning Special Proceedings Room at the Evo A. DeConcini federal courthouse. Some of those attending had been in line since 6 a.m.
The first to take the stand once sentencing began was Christina Pietz, Loughner's prison psychologist, who told the court she interacts daily with Loughner. She said his mental health is steadily improving and she believed him to be competent to understand the proceedings against him and to proceed with sentencing despite his mental illness.
As Pietz spoke, Loughner stared down at the table before him. Though he had a legal right to address the court, Loughner declined to make a statement.
As Judge Larry Burns began to impose the sentence, Giffords stared intently at Loughner.
The first witness to testify was Patricia Maisch, who said the mental health system had failed and that true justice in Loughner's case was impossible. Loughner's parents sobbed as she spoke.
"I need him to know where he is and why -- to remember every day what he did and the horror he set loose," Maisch said.
As Maisch spoke, Giffords was seen rising and leaving the courtroom.
One after another, victims took the stand to tell Loughner the damage he had done to their families and their lives. The fiancee of Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the melee, spoke of raising their daughter alone.
Susan Hileman, who was shot three times, looked directly at Loughner as she told him, "You turned a civics lesson into a nightmare."
Mavy Stoddard, whose husband was killed, looked directly at Loughner as she told him: " Jared you ruined my whole life." She recounted how her husband died in her arms, and told Loughner, "You gave him no chance."
"You took away my life ... And my reason for living. And you did this because you wanted to," Stoddard told the shooter. But then, she added, "I forgive you."
Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer, told Loughner, "That was a day that shocked our community and broke our hearts," but that he continues to be inspired by Giffords' recovery from a catastrophic head wound.
"You did not take away her determination, compassion and will to serve," Barber said.
Pam Simon, another former Giffords' aide who shot in chest, told the court, "I want this to be over. I came here seeking peace." She told Loughner she knew he did not seek his mental illness, and that she had learned from the tragedy.
"I have been humbled and inspired by the strength and determination of other survivors," Simon said.
The mood was solemn as victims and their families were escorted into the courtroom for sentencing, which will bring the federal case to a close. Also seated in the front row of the courtroom were Loughner's parents.
Under terms of a plea agreement hammered out by prosecutors and defense attorneys in August, Loughner will spend the rest of his life in prison - most likely in a federal prison psychiatric ward.
Loughner attorney Judy Clarke said there would be no surprises at the Thursday sentencing.
Loughner pleaded guilty earlier this year to the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings in a supermarket parking lot north of Tucson. Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet there when Loughner opened fire with a 9mm Glock 19 pistol.
Giffords was shot in the head. She survived but eventually resigned her seat because of her injuries.
Earlier this year, Loughner pleaded guilty to two counts of murder of a federal employee and four counts of causing the death of a person at a federally sponsored event. The charges were for killing:
-- John Roll, 63, presiding U.S. District Court judge for Arizona.
-- Gabe Zimmerman, 30, one of Giffords' staffers.
-- Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old attending Giffords' event with an adult neighbor.
-- Dorwan Stoddard, 76; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79, three retirees at the event.
Loughner also pleaded guilty to attempted assassination of a member of Congress for shooting Giffords, and various counts of attempted murder and injuring a person at a federal event.
In addition to Giffords, the wounded were Mavy Stoddard (Dorwan's wife); George Morris (Dorothy's husband); Susan Hileman (Christina-Taylor's neighbor); Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer who filled her congressional seat; Pam Simon, another Giffords staffer; and event attendees Bill Badger, Kenneth Dorushka, Eric Fuller, Randy Gardner, Mary Reed, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.
Sentencing hearings usually provide a chance for victims to speak their minds. Kelly is expected to address the court on Giffords' behalf.
Loughner and his parents and friends will also have a chance to address the court.
Afterward, John Leonardo, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, has indicated he and some of the victims of the shooting will hold a news conference.
However, Loughner could still be tried for murder and other crimes in Arizona state court. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has not yet said whether she will exercise that option.
Reporters Shaun McKinnon and Wendy Halloran contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 USATODAY.com