Accused Arizona gunman Jared Lee Loughner [JURIST news archive; case materials] was indicted [text, PDF; press release] Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Tuscon, Arizona. He is charged with attempting to assassinate a member of Congress [18 USC § 351(c)] and two counts of attempting to murder a federal employee [18 USC §§ 1113-1114] in connection with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) [official website] and two of her aids, Ronald Barber and Pamela Simon. The January 8 attack, launched on an open meeting of Giffords' constituency outside a Tuscon Safeway, took the lives of six people. Loughner faces a maximum penalty of life in prison for the attempted assassination of Giffords. Each count of attempted murder of a federal employee carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. US Attorney Dennis Burke [official biography] of the District of Arizona [official website] said the investigation is still in its "early stages":
This case involves...death-penalty charges, and Department [of Justice] rules require us to pursue a deliberate and thorough process. Today's charges are just the beginning of our legal action. We are working diligently to ensure that our investigation is thorough and that justice is done for the victims in their families.Loughner has been in custody without bail since January 8.
Last week, a California federal judge was appointed [JURIST news report] to try the case after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves due to objectivity concerns arising from the death John Roll [WSJ profile], Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website]. The previous day, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed [press release, PDF; JURIST report] emergency legislation [SB1101 materials; text] making it a crime to picket or protest a funeral after Reverend Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church [official website; WARNING: readers may find material on this website offensive] announced plans to picket the funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old girl killed in the shooting. The church later backed off its plans [Arizona Republic report] and did not hold a protest. Prosecutors charged Loughner [criminal complaint, PDF; JURIST report] with murder and attempted murder last week. President Barack Obama has directed that the investigation into the shooting be conducted [press releases] by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] under the coordination of Director Robert Mueller [official profile]. Officials arrested Loughner on January 8 and continue to search for a possible accomplice [press release]. Due to the polarized political climate, many suspect that the attack was politically motivated [ABC report]. Giffords has received harsh criticism in Arizona for her vote for the health care reform law [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] and was among those members of Congress who reported threats or vandalism in 2010. Giffords also was an outspoken critic of Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive]. This accusation, however, has been heavily criticized by both parties and a clear motive for the shootings has yet to be identified.