‘Sane, Sane, Sane’ Or Insane? Theater Shooting Jury Hears Closing Arguments

July 15, 2015
Photos: Brauchler Closing Arguments Aurora Theater Shooting Trial
Accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, left, listens to lead prosecutor George Brauchler give closing arguments during his trial on July 14, 2015.

The fate of the gunman behind the Aurora theater shooting is now in the jury’s hands.

James Holmes could get the death penalty for killing 12 people at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” three years ago.  He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.  Yesterday, attorneys on both sides made their final pitch to jurors during closing arguments.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the courtroom as District Attorney George Brauchler stood before the jury to sum up the case.  Journalists from all over the world and families of the victims filled the gallery.

Brauchler told the jury that on July 20, 2012, Batman fans crowded into a theater, thrilled to see their favorite superhero. "Instead, a different figure appeared by the screen dressed all in black. And he came there with one thing in his heart and in his mind, and that was mass murder," Brauchler said.

“He came in with overwhelming firepower, he brought with him over 700 rounds, including steel penetrating rounds and he shot anything and everything he could,” Brauchler said. With an assault rifle, shotgun and handgun he killed 12 people and wounded 70 more.

Through the course of the trial jurors have seen grisly photos of the dead and injured. They’ve heard emotional testimony of the chaos and confusion in the theater.

On Tuesday, Brauchler reminded them of the meticulous planning that Holmes put into the massacre.  Casing the theater.  Dressing in full body armor.  Using tear gas to keep people from escaping as he opened fire.

“He knows that his victims want to live, he knows his victims are going to resists his attempts to kill them, they’re going to try to save their own live so he leaves nothing to chance. He’s planned for all the contingencies and all of that planning goes to the intent,” Brauchler said.

The prosecutor noted two court-appointed psychiatric experts found Holmes was sane at the time of the attack, that he could tell the difference between right and wrong. And he told the jury that the fact Holmes surrendered to police after the attack shows he didn’t want to be shot trying to escape.

"That is logical, that is rational, and that is anything, anything but psychotic," he said.

And  as Brauchler finished his closing argument, he pointed at Holmes, saying, “Sane, sane, sane, guilty.”

Holmes’ public defender, Dan King, then took his turn and appeared dumbfounded by the prosecution’s argument.

“To stand here and pretend like Mr. Holmes is not mentally ill is misconstruing the evidence,” King said.

"You cannot divorce the mental illness from this case or from Mr. Holmes, because the mental illness caused this to happen," King said, arguing that everything Holmes did to hide his planning is evidence that he was conflicted about going through with the attack.

"That's a symptom of the mental illness, that you want to be fixed and at the same time that you don't," King said. "Through all of these interviews with the experts, he talks about the struggle going on inside of himself. And that's consistent with schizophrenia."

The defense hired its own psychiatric experts who found that Holmes was insane at the time of the attack.  King said the experts on both sides may have disagreed on legal sanity, but, “All four of them have indicated that this is a very serious and chronic and long standing mental illness.”

In fact, King said, all the psychiatric experts for both prosecution and defense diagnosed Holmes as having some type of schizophrenia. King also reminded jurors of how one of the prosecution’s psychiatric experts reacted to a notebook Holmes wrote before the shooting.  It contained nonsensical rantings and outlined his plan to kill.

“And do you remember what he said about that? He said, ‘When I saw that notebook I thought, wow! There’s a lot of crazy in there.’”

In it, Holmes wrote about how he believed he could acquire other people’s self worth by killing them. 

After closing arguments, Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was shot to death in the theater, was confident the jury would convict Holmes on all counts of murder and attempted murder.

“Looking forward to sometime, early part of next week, we’ll come back and we’ll get 165 guilty verdicts and we can move on to the next level,” he said.

That next level would be sentencing. If the jury finds Holmes guilty, they will next decide if he gets the death penalty.  

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