Los Angeles: A US grand jury indicted suspected Arizona shooter Jared Loughner on Wednesday for trying to kill US lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords as the lawmaker's stunning recovery continued.
US Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke stressed that the three indictment counts were "just the beginning" of legal action against Loughner, accused over the January 08 shooting spree that killed six people and injured 13.
"We are in the early stages of this ongoing investigation," he said, noting that Loughner, 22, could face the death penalty if convicted.
"Today's charges are just the beginning of our legal action, and we are working diligently to ensure that our investigation is thorough and that justice is done for the victims and their families," Burke said.
Loughner was detained shortly after the shooting, which triggered a wave of soul-searching over America's starkly divisive politics.
Giffords, who had been holding a public event at the Tucson shopping centre where the attack took place, was shot in the head at point-blank range, the bullet passing through her brain from front to back.
But within days she was responding to commands and moving limbs, in what one doctor described as a miracle.
Among the six dead were US federal judge John Roll and a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was hailed by President Barack Obama as an inspiration for Americans to conduct a more civil political discourse.
Wednesday's federal grand jury indictment was on three counts of attempted murder, of Giffords and two aides, Pam Simon and Ron Barber, who were with the US lawmaker outside a grocery store when the gunman struck.
Attempting to assassinate a member of Congress carries a maximum term of life in prison, a USD 250,000 fine or both, while trying to kill a federal employee carries a maximum 20-year term along with a possible USD 250,000 fine.
But Loughner could be put to death if convicted on murder allegations stemming from the shooting.
"The procedure in any case which may result in a punishment of death requires a careful and deliberate process," Burke said.
That would include "consultation with the victims of the crimes and their families, consideration of all evidence relevant to guilt and punishment and consultation with all the law enforcement agencies" probing the case, he said.
Meanwhile Giffords's office said the US lawmaker, whose condition was upgraded from critical to serious at the weekend, could be moved to a rehabilitation hospital within days.
Giffords, 40, who has been treated at the University Medical Centre in Tucson, is expected to move to the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas on Friday, her office said.
First Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011, 09:47