Video: Loughner's parents: 'We are so very sorry'

  1. Closed captioning of: Loughner's parents: 'We are so very sorry'

    >> turn now tonight to the suspect in this case, the accused assassin, jared lee loughner, by all accounts, a very troubled 22-year-old man. so much so, in fact, that many people are saying that the main story of this tragedy is more mental health than it is issues like the political process. tonight we finally heard from his family in our own mike taibbi is live outside the family home in tucson. mike, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, how are you, brian? in a written statement late today the parents of the suspect said we wish we could change the heinous events of saturday. we care deeply about the victims and families and we're so very sorry for their loss. the question remains, how could the parents of jared loughner been unaware of what their only child was thinking and allegedly planning living in the same house? secluded in their modest home, amy and randy loughner told the neighbor, wayne smith , to say a few words about how they were doing. in the aftermath of the tragedy their son is charged with creating they, too, are suffering.

    >> they're hurting bad. she's really bad. we may have to put her in the hospital.

    >> reporter: while they knew their son had problems they had no idea how far he had spiralled down.

    >> it's a sad thing. their son did this, not amy and randy. and people need to understand that.

    >> reporter: but many wonder how loughner's parents could not have questions which looks like a shrine in the backyard with a candles and replica skull. they wonder why they didn't see and hear what the classmates and teachers at pima community college heard from him in outbursts. nonsense cal tirades, some terrifying and not just now and then says his former classmate.

    >> this kid was so off the wall --

    >> every day?

    >> every day. so for, i don't know, for people not to notice, i find that hard to believe.

    >> reporter: but it seems loughner's parents lost touch with him. george, the father of one of his best friends , said loughner's parents showed up unannounced one day looking for jared.

    >> my son told me he was gone for an entire week.

    >> and the parents didn't know where he was.

    >> did they know his other influences? allegedly smoking pot and the over-the-counter hallucinogen like salvia and he likes documentaries that were scarey and he cut himself off from his friends.

    >> basically, he called or texted them and said, you know, i don't want anything to do with you anymore.

    >> isolated in his own home and apparently propelled by demons his parents say they never saw. federal investigators tell nbc news that loughner's parents have, in fact, cooperated fully with the investigation right from the beginning. brian?

    >> all right, mike taibbi not far from here at the

Image: Attorney General Eric Holder
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
Attorney General Eric Holder will decide whether the government will seek the death penalty against Jared Loughner.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/12/2011 6:46:22 AM ET 2011-01-12T11:46:22

Like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Jared Loughner, identified as the gunman in last weekend’s killings of congressional aide Gabriel Zimmerman, judge John Roll and several others, stands accused of crimes eligible for the federal death penalty.

As do the laws in 35 states, federal law authorizes the death penalty in some cases, including an offense specified in the criminal complaint against Loughner filed by the government on Sunday: murder of federal employees who were “engaged in the performance of official duties.”

Federal law gives the attorney general the sole discretion to decide whether to seek the death penalty. “That's probably the toughest decision that an attorney general has to make: when do you authorize the seeking of the death penalty?” Attorney General Eric Holder said in comments reported by National Public Radio in 2009.

Death penalty almost inevitable
“I can’t imagine the government not asking for the death penalty,” said Nina Ginsberg, a veteran defense lawyer in Alexandria, Va., who has represented clients in death penalty cases. “This will be an almost impossible case for the government not to ask for the death penalty.”

Whether Holder will seek the death penalty "is a question of how the facts develop — mostly about the defendant, not how the facts develop about the crime, because I don’t think there’s much that is not already known about the crime,” said law professor and defense attorney Andrea Lyon, the director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

Lyon has been the defense attorney in more than 30 potential capital trials.

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“My guess would be that they will seek the death penalty,” she said.

But a long, complex process must unfold before any trial takes place, said Lyon. “It’s going to take a long time before this case goes to trial, I can tell you that right now.”

She said that Loughner’s competency to stand trial is a different question from whether his lawyers decide to use — and are successful in using — insanity as a defense.

Fitness to stand trial
Showing fitness to stand trial is an easier legal standard to meet than showing that a person is sane enough to be found guilty, Lyon said.

To be found unfit to stand trial, a person has to be determined to not understand, for instance, what he is charged with, not to know what a court is, or not be able to cooperate with his defense lawyers.

Video: Inside the mind of Jared Lee Loughner (on this page)

“Sometimes you have a defendant who is behaving so bizarrely” that the judge will, on his own initiative, order a doctor to examine the person to determine whether he can stand trial, Lyon said.

But “usually that is something that the defense asks that the court do,” said Lyon. “There may never be a fitness hearing, I don’t know.”

If the case does go to trial and if defense attorneys decide to use a defense of insanity, then it would up to the jury at the trial to decide whether the defendant were sane.

An insanity defense is “very unusual. I know that TV likes it and you see it all the time in the movies, but it is used very rarely — and successful almost never,” Lyon said.

David Bruck, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University, said, “Insanity is an affirmative defense that must be raised by the defense in order to be considered by the jury. So there is no way to know at this early stage whether it will be at issue in the trial in this case.” 

Trying to head off death penalty
Before any trial, Loughner’s defense counsel likely would seek to meet with federal prosecutors in Arizona to try to persuade them to not ask for the death penalty.

Defense counsel can present mitigating evidence, that is, reasons not to punish the accused person with the death penalty, “such as mental or psychological problems or physical problems,” said Lyon.

Video: Will Loughner plead insanity? (on this page)

The federal prosecutors in Arizona who are handling the case will at some point, likely to be months from now, make a recommendation to the Department of Justice in Washington as to whether the death penalty should be sought. 

A committee on capital cases at the Justice Department will then meet to consider the case. At that stage, too, said Lyon, defense attorneys would have a chance to make their argument that the department ought not to ask for the death penalty.

Holder's call
Ultimately the attorney general will make a decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

President Barack Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign that he supported the death penalty for crimes for which the "community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage."

Eileen Connor, a lawyer in Newark, N.J., who has written a recent critique of the federal death penalty in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, said “the attorney general could determine never to authorize the death penalty, or to authorize it in every case. The decision is final and not reviewable by any court.”

Ultimately, the attorney general “is accountable as a political appointee and may face removal in the event that the president is not satisfied with the implementation of the federal death penalty.”

Interactive: Tragedy in Tucson: The shooting victims (on this page)

Usually, attorneys general "do what the local prosecutors want to do, but not always. Particularly when (George W.) Bush was president, sometimes local (federal) prosecutors said ‘we shouldn’t seek death in this case’” and the Justice Department would decide to seek the death penalty anyway, Lyon said.

It’s not easy for non-lawyers to understand why the Justice Department seeks the death penalty in some cases but not in others.

“That’s because every case is unique," Lyon said. “Some of it has to do with their assessment of the crime and the criminal. Some has to do with their assessment of their ability to win the case and the strength of their evidence.”

If authorities in Arizona also decided to prosecute Loughner, the federal trial would take place first, Lyon said. The state authorities might decide to not indict him or they may wait. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder,” she noted.

Arizona is one of the 35 states that has its own death penalty statute.

If Loughner were tried in federal court and the death penalty were sought but the federal jury decided not to give him the death penalty, Arizona could seek to try him and put him to death.

The federal death penalty has been carried out in three cases since Congress reinstated federal capital punishment in 1988: They are:

  • McVeigh in 2001.
  • Juan Garza, convicted in connection with murders of drug traffickers in Texas and executed in 2001.
  • Louis Jones, convicted of abduction murder and executed in 2003.
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According to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, since 1988, the government has taken to trial federal death penalty cases involving 270 defendants. Sixty of them are now sentenced to death and waiting the outcome of their appeals.

Connor noted that Holder has authorized at least one capital prosecution in a state that banned the death penalty, Vermont. In such cases, she argued, “the local values, expressed in the refusal to enact a death penalty statute, or to seek the death penalty, are undermined.”

Facing the death penalty in that Vermont case is Michael Jacques, who has been charged with kidnapping, raping and killing his 12-year-old niece.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  2. Image:
    Morry Gash / AP
    Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

Gallery: Tragedy in Tucson: The shooting victims

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