WASHINGTON: A federal grand jury has indicted suspected Arizona shooter Jared Loughner on three counts for trying to kill US lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (photo) and two of her aides, officials have said.
But US Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke stressed that the three indictment counts were “just the beginning” of legal action against Loughner, accused over the Jan 8 shooting spree that killed six people and injured 13.
“We are in the early stages of this ongoing investigation,” he said, noting that Loughner, 22, could face the death penalty for some of the crimes allegedly committed.
“Today’s charges are just the beginning of our legal action, and we are working diligently to ensure that our investigation is thorough and that justice is done for the victims and their families,” said Burke.
Loughner was detained at the scene of the shooting at a public meeting Giffords was holding in Tucson, which triggered a wave of soul-searching over America’s starkly divisive politics.
Among the six dead were US federal judge John Roll and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was hailed by President Barack Obama as an inspiration for the United States to clean up its political culture.
Attempting to assassinate a member of Congress carries a maximum term of life in prison, a $250,000 fine or both, while trying to kill a federal employee carries a maximum 20-year term along with a possible $250,000 fine.
But Loughner could be put to death for murder indictments expected to result from the shooting.
“The procedure in any case which may result in a punishment of death requires a careful and deliberate process,” Burke added.
It notably includes “consultation with the victims of the crimes and their families, consideration of all evidence relevant to guilt and punishment and consultation with all the law enforcement agencies” probing the case, he said.
Meanwhile, Giffords has been upgraded to “serious” from “critical” over the weekend, and is expected to move to the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas on Friday, her office has said.
“But because this is a fluid situation, the exact day of the move will depend on the congresswomans health,” it added in a statement.
Her family “wants to ensure she receives the best rehabilitative care possible for her type of serious penetrating brain injury,” said Michael Lemole, one of the lawmaker’s neurosurgeons at the University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson, Arizona.
Doctors said Monday that Giffords recovered from a successful surgery to remove bone fragments from her eye socket, and smiled again.