In one of the more remarkable acts of gun violence in recent years, Jared Loughner is still facing charges for killing six people and wounding several others, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). News out of the prison where Loughner is being held, reported by NBC News, says that he now wants to plead guilty.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Loughner has been undergoing mental health treatment in prison since shortly after the shooting and those responsible for his treatment intend to testify that he is mentally competent to stand trial.
There is overwhelming evidence of Loughner’s guilt, but even a guilty plea won’t be a slam dunk. The federal law requires that a guilty plea be fully understood by the person entering it, meaning the judge will have to ask Loughner several questions in open court to see if he really understands.
Loughner, 23, is charged with 49 criminal offenses including first-degree murder as a result of the shooting. His victims included a 9-year old girl and the rampage wounded 13 people. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf last year.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Tuesday’s mental status hearing had been changed to a change-of-plea hearing, citing an official familiar with the case, and the sentences Jared Loughner could face will also change if he is deemed able to stand trial.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns will decide at Tuesday’s hearing whether Loughner is fit for trial. If so, Loughner – who is being forcibly medicated to treat his psychosis – could face the death penalty if found guilty. The details of the plea arrangement have not been released, nor has it been specified if Loughner intends to plead guilty to all or only some of the charges.
The attack that wounded Giffords caused her to resign her seat in congress, though it has now been filled by her former aide, bringing some closure to that chapter of the saga. A guilty plea by Jared Loughner would go a long way toward bringing it to a close altogether.