Accused Gabby Giffords Shooter May Plead Guilty

Jared Lee Loughner (MSNBC)
Jared Lee Loughner (MSNBC)

Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of shooting former Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Tuscon, Ariz., in 2011, may plead guilty this week. He may enter his plea on Tuesday during a status hearing, and a federal official told that if his plea is accepted, Loughner will be required to serve life in prison. However, if he stands trial, he faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

The federal judge handling the case had scheduled a status hearing in Tucson for this Tuesday to get an update from prison doctors treating Jared Loughner, who's been undergoing mental health treatment in a Bureau of Prisons hospital since shortly after the shooting.

Loughner now wants to plead guilty at that hearing, and the doctors treating him are prepared to testify that he's mentally competent to offer the plea, these sources say. Acceptance of a plea from Loughner will not be automatic. Under federal court rules, the judge must be satisfied that a guilty plea is "knowing and voluntary." That will require the judge to ask Loughner a series of questions in open court to make certain that he has the capacity to understand what a guilty plea means, including the fact that he gives up all his appeal rights.