Theater Trial Prosecutor Would ‘Seriously Consider’ Pursuing Death Penalty Again

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Photo: DA George Brauchler (AP Photo)
George Brauchler, center, district attorney for Colorado's 18th Judicial District and prosecutor of Aurora, Colo., theater shooter James Holmes, talks after a jury failed to agree on whether the theater shooter should get the death penalty Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

District Attorney George Brauchler, a weekend removed from the outcome of the Aurora theater shooting case, defended his pursuit of the death penalty.

James Holmes will spend life in prison for the murders of 12 people and the wounding of many more three years ago. Though a jury found Holmes guilty of the murders, they were not unanimous in death, as Brauchler wanted. Holmes' mental health was under close scrutiny before and throughout the trial but jurors rejected an insanity defense in finding Holmes guilty.

"If someone were to try to commit another mass murder of this size again and invest the same two-and-a-half or three months of planning to do it, I would seriously consider pursuing death again," Brauchler told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

The running tally of the costs of trial to Brauchler's 18th Judicial District is $1.37 million. That figure will keep rising. View the most recent version of the tally here. The Office of the Colorado State Public Defender has not released it's tally of the costs of the case.

Highlights from the conversation are below:

Brauchler on why he continued to pursue the death penalty:

“The standard is to try to figure out a way to accomplish justice. And in this case, which I think is the biggest mass murder in the state of Colorado, there has to be a way to distinguish this from your other -- forgive me for this term -- run-of-the-mill first-degree murders in which those defendants get life without the possibility of parole. What this guy did is exponentially more evil.”

On how he weighed the desires of victims' families:

“As you might guess, with any 100 people, you aren’t going to ever have unanimity. There were a significant number who wanted the case to be over -- but not for the reasons you’d think. Some were, ‘I want this case to be done because I need closure. I want to move on.’ Some said, ‘I think this guy deserves to die for what he did, but I just watched your governor pull the rug out from under a death penalty case that had been lingering for 20 years and I can’t put my family through it.’ Others said, ‘I think he may die more quickly in general population than he would through the death penalty process’ [implying that other prisoners could kill him].”

On the importance of mental illness in death penalty cases:

“If the evidence was such that someone’s mental illness had significantly impaired their function and ability to perform in society and make decisions, of course that would be something I would weigh heavily despite how big the crime was. But in this particular case, the impact on his function was de minimis at best.”