Federal grand jury in Tucson shootings indicts Loughner on 46 new charges
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 1:22 AM
Accused Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner was charged Friday with 49 federal counts of murder and attempted murder in connection with a January rampage, an attempt by prosecutors to treat victims equally and to protect the public's right to assemble for meetings with federal officials.
Loughner had already been arraigned on three counts of attempted murder against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and two aides as they gathered at a Tucson supermarket to meet with constituents.
But, employing a novel legal argument, prosecutors persuaded a federal grand jury to indict him on 46 new charges, on the theory that the shootings occurred on protected federal ground, as if it happened in Congress. Six people, including a chief federal district judge, were killed, and 13 - including Giffords - were injured.
U.S Attorney Dennis K. Burke told reporters in Phoenix that he wants to seek justice for all the victims and make no distinction between those who were federal employees and those who were merely attending the congresswoman's event.
"These victims were exercising one of the most precious and fundamental rights of American citizens: the right to meet freely, openly and peaceably with their member of Congress," Burke said. "It is a civil right. And their safety in participating in this federal activity is protected by federal law."
The superseding indictment now charges Loughner with the murders of two federal officials - U.S. District Judge John M. Roll and Giffords's aide, Gabriel M. Zimmerman. Loughner is also accused of causing the deaths of four participants at a federal activity: Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. He is charged with injuring 10 others struck by bullets on Jan. 8. He faces numerous weapons charges.
The additional charges were made under a provision in federal civil rights law that is usually applied to hate crimes but can be extended to crimes against any person "participating in or enjoying any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity provided or administered by the United States." In this case, that would be Giffords's "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and-greet with her Tucson constituents.
The federal law forbids anyone from injuring, intimidating or interfering with any such person, or attempting to do so.
A source close to the case said that courts have held the civil-rights statute should be interpreted broadly, adding that it has been used successfully in recent cases.
Loughner, 22, faces the death penalty if convicted. He will be arraigned on the new charges Wednesday, inside the same federal district courthouse in Tucson where Roll had presided.
Some legal experts called the strategy risky, saying it could raise appellate issues.
"I am unfamiliar with that legal theory," said Aitan D. Goelman, a former federal prosecutor who helped prosecute Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. "In Oklahoma, we charged McVeigh and Nichols with eight counts for the federal agents who were killed. We did not charge 168 murder counts for the other 160 people who were inside the federal building."