Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused in the January shooting spree in Tucson, was indicted on additional federal murder charges by a grand jury yesterday for allegedly murdering “participants at a federally provided activity,” the Justice Department announced Friday.
The news out of the 49-count superseding indictment is that Loughner is now charged with the murder of non-federal employees who were participating in the event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) back in January.
From the beginning of the criminal case against Loughner, federal prosecutors have been grappling with which aspects of his alleged conduct constitute federal crimes. The latest version of the indictment shows that Justice Department prosecutors have found what they feel to be a proper legal basis for expanding the federal case against him.
With today’s new indictment, Loughner has now been charged in all six deaths in the Jan. 8 shooting. Previously, he’d only been charged with two deaths. Loughner has now been charged in connection with injuring all 13 of the people wounded that day. He had previously only been charged with the attempted murder of Giffords and two of her staffers. He’s now been charged with 10 other counts of “injuring a participant at an activity provided by the United States.” Loughner could still face state criminal charges.
Loughner will also face charges for “causing the death of participants at a federally provided activity, namely the killings of Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard, and a child, referred to in the indictment as C-T G., who were shot while waiting to see Rep. Giffords at the Congress on Your Corner event,” the Justice Department said. (C-T G. is 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who the Justice Department is not referring to by name because she was a minor.)
But legal scholars say DOJ’s position is pretty novel.
“I am unfamiliar with that legal theory,” Aitan D. Goelman, an ex-federal prosecutor who helped prosecute the Oklahoma City bombers, told the Washington Post. “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.”
George Washington University law professor Stephen Salzberg told the newspaper the legal strategy was overkill.
“They clearly have the congresswoman, her staff and a federal judge covered by federal law, and for everyone else they could prosecute him in state court,” Salzberg said. “You don’t need to stretch it and try to argue that everyone was in a federally protected area. That is a really sweeping view of the federal law.”
But a statement from Arizona’s top federal prosecutor said the charges were legitimate.
“This was an attack on Congresswoman Giffords, her constituents, and her staff,” U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said in a statement. “We will seek justice for the federal officials, Judge Roll and Gabriel M. Zimmerman, and for Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard, and [Christina Taylor Gree].”
“These final four Arizonans’ lives were extinguished while exercising one of the most precious rights of American citizens, the right to meet freely and openly with their Member of Congress,” he said. “The deceased are not the only ones whose rights are being defended. Those citizens who were peaceably assembled to speak to their Member of Congress are also named victims in this indictment.”
“This indictment involves potential death-penalty charges, and Department rules require us to pursue a deliberate and thorough process,” Burke said. “That process is ongoing, and we will continue to work diligently to see that justice is done.”
Here’s a summary from the Justice Department of the sentences Loughner could face: