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Grand jury indicts Arizona shooting suspect

A federal grand jury indicts Jared Loughner on three counts in connection with the Jan. 8 attack that killed six people and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

A federal grand jury indicted Jared Loughner Wednesday on three counts in connection with the Jan. 8 Tucson shooting spree that killed six people and wounded another 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said the charges are "just the beginning of our legal action."

"This case also involves potential death-penalty charges, and Department rules require us to pursue a deliberate and thorough process," he said in a prepared statement.

The indictment alleges that Loughner, 22, of Tucson, attempted to assassinate Giffords, and attempted to murder two federal employees, Ron Barber and Pamela Simon.

The indictment includes three counts, not five as the original criminal complaint did. There's no count in this indictment for the killing of Judge John M. Roll or of Giffords aide Gabriel Zimmerman.

Justice Department officials say they fully intend to seek an indictment of Loughner for the other two counts but want more time to build their case — one that will almost certainly result in seeking the death penalty.

In essence, this is a place-holder indictment. It gets Loughner before a district court judge, now scheduled for Monday. And it gives the prosecutors a little more time before they hit a time limit for seeking the death penalty.

Calls to each of Loughner's attorneys, Judy Clarke and Mark Fleming, weren't immediately returned Wednesday evening.

The indictment was expected. The federal criminal code mandates that an indictment be brought within 30 days of an arrest.  

Loughner has been held in federal custody since the Jan. 8 shooting outside a Safeway grocery store. Surveillance video from the store shows moments of mayhem and a judge's bravery as a gunman shoots Giffords in the face, then turns the gun on a crowd of people waiting to meet the congresswoman, an Arizona sheriff's official said Wednesday.

Pima County Sheriff's Chief Rick Kastigar said he watched the first part of the surveillance video, which purportedly shows 22-year-old Jared Loughner shooting Giffords in the forehead from about 2 feet away. It also shows U.S. District Judge John Roll trying to shield Giffords aide Ron Barber from gunfire.

"I believe the judge is a hero," Kastigar said. "I think Judge Roll is responsible for directing Mr. Barber out of the line of fire and helped save his life."

Roll was shot in the back; he and five others died from their injuries. Barber was among 13 people shot and wounded.

The 22-year-old gunman had been bent on targeting Giffords since meeting her at a similar event in 2007, authorities said. She is in serious condition after the bullet traveled the length of her brain.

The video shows Loughner turning toward a group of people sitting in chairs, then stepping out of view. Kastigar said that's when Loughner indiscriminately fired at the seated group and turned toward Roll and Barber.

Kastigar said Loughner shot Barber, and almost simultaneously Roll moved Barber toward the ground and both crawled beneath the table, with Roll getting on top of Barber.

The sheriff's office turned the video over to the FBI, which has declined to release it.

"You know, I've been a cop for three decades and I've seen some pretty traumatic and disturbing things, and this was very, very upsetting to watch this," Kastigar said of the video.

The Jan. 8 shooting rocked Tucson and the nation, resulting in an outpouring of support for Giffords and the other victims, including thousands of candles, cards, balloons and bouquets across the southern Arizona desert city.

Inside the hospital, Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, has been keeping his own vigil. He told ABC television in an interview that aired Tuesday night that he believed for about 20 minutes that his wife was dead after seeing a mistaken television news report.

Kelly, a space shuttle astronaut, said he had rushed aboard a friend's plane to fly to Arizona after hearing of the shooting.

"I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down," he said. "To hear that she died is just, it's devastating for me."

Kelly said he later learned that she was alive when he called Giffords' mother, who was outside the operating room.

Giffords isn't aware that six people died in the shooting, including Gabe Zimmerman, one of her staff members, Kelly said.

Kelly told Sawyer that he was sure Giffords recognizes him at her hospital bed, since she has continued with a habit of playing with his wedding ring — moving it up and down his finger and sometimes putting it on her thumb.

"She's done that before," he said. "She'll do that if we're sitting in a restaurant. She'll do the same exact movements."

Giffords may leave the hospital Friday and move into a Texas rehabilitation center to begin the next phase of her recovery, her family said Thursday.

In a statement released by Giffords' congressional office, Kelly, said his wife will be moved — likely Friday — to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston.

Kelly lives in Houston.

"I am extremely hopeful at the signs of recovery that my wife has made since the shooting. The team of doctors and nurses at UMC has stabilized her to the point of being ready to move to the rehabilitation phase," Kelly said.