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Gunman pleads guilty to Arizona mass shooting

A US man has pleaded guilty to the killing of six people and the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Jared Lee Loughner will be spared the death penalty in exchange for his plea.

Jared Lee Loughner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 19 counts including murder, attempted murder and the attempted assassination of Gifford.

His plea came shortly after US District Judge Larry Burns ruled that the 23-year-old was mentally competent to stand trial. He had been receiving court-ordered psychiatric treatment for over a year for schizophrenia.

"He's a different person in his appearance and affect than the first time I saw him," Burns said of Loughner's improved mental state. His lawyer, Judy Clark, said her client was agreeing to plead guilty "knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently."

Loughner is due to be sentenced on November 15. He faces multiple terms of life in prison. Under a plea deal federal prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty against him.

President Barack Obama embraces Gabrielle Giffords(Foto:Saul Loeb/AP/dapd)

Giffords had been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party

On January 8, 2011 Loughner opened fire at a public meeting between Giffords and her constituents outside a supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona. Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and 13 others were wounded.

Giffords survived after being shot through the head, but was forced to resign from Congress to focus on her recovery.

In a statement issued ahead of the plea hearing, Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of Gabrielle Giffords, said he welcomed the plea deal.

"The pain and loss caused by the events of Jan. 8, 2011 are incalculable. Avoiding a trial will allow us - and we hope the whole southern Arizona community - to continue with our recovery and move forward with our lives," Kelly said.

ccp/av (AFP, dpa, Reuters)