Loughner entered a guilty plea in August in exchange for avoiding the federal death penalty. The shooting left six people dead and 13 others wounded, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Loughner could have faced the state death penalty if Arizona prosecutors decided to try him, but the Pima County Attorney's Office said it would not file state charges. County Attorney Barbara LaWall says she reached out to family members, victims and survivors and decided against filing charges and seeking the death penalty.
Some victims testified at the hearing, including Giffords' husband Mark Kelly, who told Loughner, 24, that he changed his wife's life forever, but couldn't dent her spirit. Kelly spoke as Giffords stood by his side, partially blind and her right arm paralyzed and limp. It was the first time Giffords came face-to-face with Loughner. She did not speak.
"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," Kelly said. "Every day is a continuous stuggle to do those things she once was so good at."
Both sides reached the deal after a judge declared that Loughner was able to understand the charges against him. After the shooting, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
"Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place," Kelly said.
Giffords kissed Kelly when he was done. He grabbed her hand and they walked away, with her limping. Loughner showed no emotion, and looked at the other victims.
Susan Hileman, who was shot three times, kept glancing back at Loughner as she spoke to the court, visibly shaking. Loughner's parents had their heads down as Hileman said Loughner's parents, college and community had failed Loughner. Loughner's mother Amy could be seen wiping her eyes.
"You pointed a weapon and shot me three times," she said. "And now I walked out of this courtroom and into the rest of my life and I won't think of you again."
It's unclear where Loughner will be sent to serve his federal sentence. He could return to a prison medical facility like the one in Springfield, Mo., where he's been treated for more than a year. Or he could end up in a prison such as the federal lockup in Florence, Colo., that houses some of the country's most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.
The exact placement will depend on the nature of his mental illness and its treatment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.