PHOENIX — Federal prosecutors on Friday announced new charges against the suspect in the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, accusing him of killing six people and wounding 13 others who were exercising the fundamental American "right to meet freely, openly and peaceably with their member of Congress."
A federal grand jury returned the 49-count indictment Thursday, charging Jared Lee Loughner in the deaths stemming from a Jan. 8 shooting at a political event held by Giffords outside a grocery store.
"This indictment is comprehensive and is solid, and covers all the murdered and injured victims," U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said. "There are no distinctions at all between the victims. These victims were exercising one of the most precious and fundamental rights of American citizens."
The indictment charged Loughner in the murders of U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, and with causing the deaths of four others who were not federal employees, including a 9-year-old girl.
Loughner also was charged with causing the death of a participant at a federally provided activity; injuring a participant at a federally provided activity; and using a gun in a crime of violence.
Loughner had pleaded not guilty to earlier federal charges of trying to assassinate Giffords and kill two of her aides.
His attorney, Judy Clarke, didn't return a call and e-mail left at her office Friday.
Federal prosecutors haven't yet said whether they will seek the death penalty against Loughner. But legal experts believe it's a virtual certainty.
Burke said because Loughner is eligible for the death penalty if convicted on some of the charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office is pursuing "a deliberate and thorough process" in prosecuting the case.
Loughner will likely face state charges in the attack as well, but will be tried first in federal court before any prosecution begins on state charges. Federal and county prosecutors said federal law requires state prosecutions to be suspended while a federal case is pending.
Loughner is scheduled for a court hearing in Tucson on Wednesday, when he will be arraigned on the new charges.
A day after the shootings, prosecutors filed a complaint in court charging Loughner with trying to assassinate Giffords, attempting to kill two of her aides, and killing Roll and Zimmerman. Those charges were later replaced by federal indictments that mirrored the same charges.
In many criminal cases, prosecutors will often file charges themselves without a grand jury indictment, but will later replace those charges with an indictment.
It was not known why the charges against Loughner weren't contained in one indictment.