The evidence against Jared Loughner in last year’s mass shooting in Tucson is overwhelming, and if he were tried and found guilty, a jury could sentence him to death. Still, says the Arizona Republic, a possible deal would have Loughner, 23, plead guilty and be sentenced to life in prison. News reports said Loughner, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, is now competent to stand trial, although a federal judge would have to approve.
The news raised questions about why federal prosecutors would weigh such a deal in a high-profile crime that claimed the lives of six, wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and outraged the nation. Prosecutors have sought the death penalty for defendants accused of murdering one person. The answer, according to some legal experts, is a matter of gauging risk in going to trial: The risk of what a jury might conclude, the risk that Loughner would fail to maintain a grasp on reality through the long and stressful proceedings, the risk of further traumatizing victims and family members when they relive the horrors of the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting. “It’s all risk assessment, both on the part of Mr. Loughner’s lawyers and the government,” said Paul Charlton, ex-U.S. Attorney for Arizona.