Just over three years ago, James Holmes opened fire on a theater full of unsuspecting superhero fans who were looking forward to seeing the premier of the latest Batman movie.
The jury rejected his plea of insanity, found him guilty in that massacre, andits members had one last question to answer: Should he be put to death?
The courtroom was packed on Friday to hear the answer to that question.
There were injured survivors. There were relatives of the dead. And there were the first responders who rushed into the theater that night. All of them focused on Judge Carlos A. Samour, Jr. as he read the verdict, which came less than a day after the jurors began deliberating:
"We the jury do not have a unanimous final sentencing verdict on this count, and we the jury understand that as a result, the court will impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole on this count."
Samour had cautioned those in the courtroom ahead of his reading to contain their emotions no matter what the jury's decision would be. But when it was announced, stunned silence turned to anguish in the gallery. Police officers and victims cried and shook their heads in disbelief. Holmes mother, who was also standing, went weak in the knees, in tears.
Her son didn’t show any emotion.
Outside the courtroom afterwards, District Attorney George Brauchler stepped in front of reporters. It had been his decision to seek the death penalty in the case.
"I would have liked a different outcome for the victims," he said. "I’ve already apologized to them."
Holmes’ public defenders said they offered a plea deal of life in prison without the possibility of parole a couple of years ago. And Brauchler was asked if he thought it had been worth it to spend millions of taxpayer dollars just to end up with that same outcome.
He was unapologetic, and pointed to the heinous act committed by Holmes.
"This guy went there, in his heart with the intention to be the number one mass murder in the history of this country, and he had the means to do it," he said.
Now, Brauchler wants to talk to the jurors and find out what he may have done that caused them to waver on death; by law, the panel would have had to have been unanimous in its decision for Holmes to be executed.
All but one of them declined to speak with reporters. She wouldn’t give her name, but said there was one staunch hold out on the jury, and said she was unclear why. After the life sentence was handed down Friday, she called it a tragedy.
"It's a devastating result no matter what. I am deeply, deeply sorry — that isn't even the word," she said.
Dave Hoover, whose nephew A.J. Boik was killed in the theater -- was disappointed.
"My verdict would have been death, because he has no value left in this world," Hoover said of Holmes. "He gets to hug his mom and dad, he gets to correspond. We don’t get that we lost that, but that’s the system."
Still, as they have been all along, families of the victims were split on the death penalty. Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was shot to death, was against executing Holmes. He wanted Brauchler to take the plea deal. Now, he was relieved that the story of the gunman is nearly over.
"We want him to go into oblivion," Phillip said. "We want him not to be seen or heard from again. That would be the gift that you could give to us for what we’ve been through."
There will be a short sentencing hearing later this month for the attempted murders of 70 other people in the theater. It's a formality at this point. After that, convicted gunman James Holmes will be sent to prison for the rest of his life.