Theater Shooting Trial Death Penalty Question Now In Jurors’ Hands

July 30, 2015

Jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial have started to deliberate -- again -- on the fate of James Holmes, who faces either life in prison or the death penalty are being found guilty two weeks ago of killing 12 people in a movie theater in 2012.

They met for about a half hour Thursday after hearing closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense about whether Holmes' mental illness or other reasons should lead them to sentence him to life in prison instead of death.

Holmes’ public defenders got the first chance to sway the jury.  Tamara Brady, one of his public defenders, said without mental illness Holmes would not be here.

"He never would have purchased all of those guns and all of that ammunition, and this heartbreaking tragedy would never have occurred," she said.

Brady and her team of attorneys have spent about a week calling family members and former teachers and friends to testify, all in an attempt to  convince the jury to show mercy. She said the death penalty wouldn’t bring closure for victims. 

"Nothing we do will bring back those that died or heal the wounds of those who were injured.  For nothing can erase July 20 2012," Brady said. And she reminded jurors that all four psychiatric experts who examined the gunman -- even the experts hired by the court who found him legally sane -- came to a strikingly similar diagnosis: Holmes suffers from some type of schizophrenia.

"No one has said that Mr. Holmes is malingering, or feigning, or faking or exaggerating psychiatric symptoms.  No one.  It is undisputed that he is seriously mentally ill," she said, and urged the jury to return a verdict of life in prison.  

Prosecutor turns defense argument around

"Is mental illness going to be a shield here to protect someone, who we will see, had the ability to make a million decisions and act completely rationally in every other aspect of his life?" District Attorney George Brauchler countered, when it was his turn.

Brauchler pointed out that Holmes was still functioning before the shooting. He had added money to his retirement account. He had applied for unemployment. He had turned in school assignments. And he did all of this while he intricately planned the shooting.

"Does that sound psychotic?  Does that sound like someone who doesn’t have a grasp of reality?  Or the capacity to conform their conduct to the law?" Brauchler argued.

He also used photos to counter the defense attempt to humanize Holmes, showing the jury images of the dead and dozens of gruesome injuries, and then asking, "How many tears from family members and teachers can outweigh this?"

Disruption in the courtroom

About 15 minutes into Brauchler's presentation, a woman in the gallery began shouting.

"He’s wrong, because mental illness is everything," she shouted and then leaped over several rows moving in what looked like the direction of Holmes' mother before deputies stopped her.  She was still screaming as they pulled her from the court.

"Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him! It’s not his fault!" she yelled as they pulled her from the courtroom.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said the woman is homeless and had been attending proceedings for the last several days and that authorities had some concerns about her.

Prosecutors asked her to be held in contempt of court, but defense attorneys said she should offered help for mental illness. Samour said he doesn't assume she is mentally ill and will consider what to do next. He later sentenced her to three weeks in jail for disrupting court. He asked the jury to ignore the outburst.

Jurors have today Friday off. They’ll come back Monday morning to continue deliberations.  If all 12 agree to move to the next phase -- victims and their families will testify on the impact of the shooting.  Then jurors will decide one final time on death or life in prison.