AURORA | After swiftly convicting him and moving through the sentencing phase, jurors in the trial of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes spared him from the death penalty Friday.
The jury said they couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict after almost a day of deliberation. Now the man who killed 12 and wounded 70 others in the July 20, 2012, shooting rampage at the Aurora Century theater will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A three-day formal sentencing hearing is sated to start Aug. 24.
The verdict marked the first time the jury sided with the defense. In the guilt phase, they rejected Holmes’ insanity claims. In the sentencing phase, the jury twice sided with the prosecution, once ruling that Holmes’ crimes were aggravated enough to be eligible for death, and again when they said Holmes’ upbringing and mental health issues weren’t enough to outweigh the horror of his crime.
But on the question of whether Holmes should be executed for his crimes, the jury’s verdict came down on the side of the defense with no unanimous verdict.
Juror 17, an attorney who asked her name not be used, spoke to media and said that one juror was adamantly against a death sentence on account of Holmes’ mental illness, and that another two jurors were “still sort of on the fence.
“But we ended out deliberations when one absolutely wouldn’t move,” Juror 17 said, who noted that the jury’s request to watch video of the crime scene earlier Friday was an attempt to sway the hold-out juror.
“You can never be the same after hearing all that testimony, seeing all that evidence, seeing how the court process works from a different perspective,” Juror 17 said, “and just experiencing a lack of media for more than three months. It’s life-changing.” She added that the worst day for her during the trial was the day which the court viewed autopsy photos of the victims.
INSIDE THE COURTROOM
Holmes’ family stood along with James during the reading of the verdict; at one point, Arlene Holmes reached forward to grasp the hand of one of the public defender investigators nearby.
Holmes stood silently next to his lawyers as Judge Samour read the verdict shortly after 5 p.m. Friday. Throughout the trial, Holmes seemed to pay close attention to the proceedings but showed little emotion. He opted not to testify on his own behalf at any phase of the trial.
Theater shooting survivors Caleb Medley and Ashley Moser — who are both confined to whrelchairs after being shot in the attack — were seated in a line in the courtroom, and Moser rested her head on Medley’s wheelchair after the verdict was read. Moser lost her 6-year-old daughter Veronica in the shooting.
Ian Sullivan, Veronica’s dad, seemed to take the ruling harder than anyone. He balled his fists and wept as the verdict came down. Before the verdict was read, Sullivan glared at Holmes just as he had done three years ago when Holmes made his first court appearance three days after the shooting.
At the end of the hearing, Sullivan was the last of the victims to leave the courtroom, sitting with his head bowed for a few seconds after everyone else had left.
Elsewhere in the courtroom, Caleb’s father, Otis Medley, patted Lonnie Phillips — stepfather of shooting victim Jessica Ghawi — on his shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry.”
Before the verdict was read, prosecutors appeared calm while the defense looked tense. District Attorney George Brauchler chatted with other prosecutors and police officers near the prosecution table. At the defense table, each of the five lawyers sat mostly silently and appeared worried.
The jury foreman appeared to glare at Holmes during the reading of the verdict, and he was seen tearing up and emotional as the jurors exited the courtroom after being released from service.
As the crowd from the courtroom exited into the hallways of the justice center, a voice could be heard in the crowd repetitively, “At least there’s no appeal.”
THE ROAD TO THE VERDICT
Holmes never denied his guilt but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers argued he was schizophrenic and in the throes of a psychotic breakdown at the time of the shooting, but the jury rejected that argument and convicted him of murder.
At sentencing, the defense argued that Holmes’ mental illness was reason enough to spare his life, but jurors again rejected that.
Public defender Tamara Brady said during her closing argument Thursday she didn’t want to diminish the killings, but she pleaded with the jury to give Holmes a life sentence instead of death.
“The deaths of all of those people cannot be answered by another death,” she said. “Please, no more death.”
REACTIONS TO THE VERDICT
District Attorney George Brauchler was joined by Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz and Aurora Fire Chief Mike Garcia, flanked by family members of the shooting victims, outside the courthouse Friday evening as he expressed his disappointment in the verdict.
“While I am disappointed with the outcome, I am not disappointed with the system,” he said.
As for the potential plea deal the defense offered shortly after he took office in early 2013, Brauchler said he was “open minded” to the idea. But, he said he told defense lawyers that if he was going to consider a deal, he would need to see Holmes’ medical records, the notebook he mailed to his therapist, and have a doctor of his choice examine Holmes.
The defense refused, he said.
Brauchler said even with the outcome, he doesn’t regret seeking the death penalty rather than allowing Holmes to plead out and avoid the trial — a trial, Brauchler noted, that shed light on every detail of the case.
With a case of this magnitude, Brauchler said it was vital that the community understood details about the crime, and that members of the community decided Holmes’ fate.
“This kind of crime cries out for the community’s involvement in the sentencing,” he said. “We made that possible.”
If a similar case happened again, Brauchler said he is “99.9-percent sure” he would handle it the same way.
Brauchler said during his closing argument Thursday that Holmes donned head-to-toe body armor to attack the theater because he wanted to survive the attack. When asked about that after the verdict, Brauchler said Holmes was successful on that front.
“Obviously he got what he wanted,” he said.
Metz, who took over the department in March, said that when he was considering moving to Aurora from Seattle Police, he was swayed in part by some of the theater shooting victims he met.
“I saw such incredible passion for not only wanting to see justice but for this city of Aurora,” he said.
Dave Hoover, the uncle of shooting victim AJ Boik, offered profuse praise for Aurora police after the sentencing verdict hearing.
“I would walk into the jaws of death for each and every one of you because that’s what you did that night … God bless you,” Hoover said, looking at officers present as he spoke.
Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was one of the 12 killed, said he was initially opposed to prosecutors seeking the death penalty. But, he said, many of the other victims’ families wanted to see Holmes put to death. With that split, Teves said he fully backed Brauchler’s decision to seek the death penalty.
“They did what they were supposed to do,” he said of prosecutors.
What a travesty, a terrible shame on our judicial system and the liberals who run it.
I read comments from ‘mental health advocates’ that all defended this ‘poor unfortunate mentally ill person’ and NEVER said one word about his victims, NOT ONE. 12 innocents murdered, 70 wounded, some with life altering injuries, and NOT ONE WORD from their mouths. Now the taxpayers will continue to support his mental health doctors and surely 2 or 3 visits a week from a team of them. And btw, the hocus pocus that is the mental health industry, is nothing but mind numbing drugs, and near seances with these ‘poor unfortunates’ What rubbish, what nonsense. I don’t know how a law got passed that we don’t give the death penalty to mentally ill folks, but when ANYONE does anything close to this monsters act, they must be hung! Give me the legal opportunity and go-ahead, and I’d do the job for free.
I’m curious. How you know that the jury was made up of liberals?
Look around, we live in a liberal state, with a liberal Democrat governor. Legalized dope, homeless and illegals with more ‘rights’ than the average Joe, you don’t think for a moment that this jury was made up of conservatives do you?
There I will definitely agree with you. He had done anything similar to this in the Colorado early days, and sheriff would have hung him about a week later, in middle of town, while everyone else would have stood around eating BBQ beef. Not just sure, when the western way, got overrun by liberals from the coastal cities, but I know why they left there, to come here. Too bad they brought their habits with them. They seem to think that is civilized, but look at all the killing going on in every country on the planet now. And we have instant communications so we can wallow in it.
Wow. I bet you must love ISIS, Saudi Arabia and all the other countries that carry out summary executions.
Wow? Just when I think we may have similar ideas, you come off the wall with something like that? You have a problem with old time justice? Before all the lawyers contaminated our way of life? Do you have lawyers in your family, that you want more of them? Do you like to spend your retirement money, for stuff that we all know from the gitgo, and the professional money leachers have to argue and argue, until the money runs out. Then they can make a decision. They move to the next carcass to leach more money,. When do we see them stop? The more experience I have with lawyers, they more I see them as Jesus saw the money lenders in the temple.
Well, Frank, yes. Having a justice system that is for being judged by a jury of your peers seems like a good thing. If you thought I think the wild west was any kind of model for fairness and justice, you’re sadly mistaken. Interesting to note that you didn’t knock the ISIS boys and the Saudis (and why did I forget about the Taliban). I guess their kind of justice really does agree with you.
My question was not about the state, Governor Hickenlooper, homeless people, illegals or dope. My question was this:
How do you know that the jury was made up of liberals?
Or are you trying to make a broad statement about Colorado being liberal. Colorado, the state where all but one statewide office is held by Republicans, where the county in which Holmes was convicted is represented in Congress by a Republican, where one of our two senators is Republican, and a majority of our congressional delegation is Republican? Where one house of the state legislature is controlled by Republicans (and the other nearly so)? But I’d be happy to settle for an answer to my first question.
How do you know the jury was made up of all liberals?
(And remember, this jury was agreed to by BOTH sides in the case.)
Recently elected Republicans are not the problem, they were elected because some of the people of Colorado tired of liberalism running this state.
It wasn’t conservatives that got a enough signatures to have a ballot issue on legalizing dope, it was liberals, ‘individual rightists’ who would have you believe Anything, Anyone says or does is his or her ‘right’. Laws be damned.
I believe that during Voir Dire, the juror holdout lied when questioned about the death penalty. You will never find a more deserving person for the death penalty. This person made it about his or her feelings about the death penalty, not the justice of this matter.
And, do you, for even a moment, believe that conservatives made Denver a sanctuary city? That’s liberalism pure and simple.
My comments were directed toward your generalizations that this so-called liberal state somehow caused the twelve jurors in the room to arrive at the verdict they did. I don’t know how many juries you’ve sat on, but I’ve been on a number of them, and my only thought during the voir dire process was “Jeez, I hope they don’t take me!”. I’ve known citizens who have sat on long trials who have told me it was an ordeal they would never want to undergo again. Based on that, I would be amazed and intrigued at your notion of why someone would lie (!) their way onto a jury where they’d have to sit for week after week for months on end, and at the end, subject themselves to being a minority of one in a case involving someone (Holmes) they probably don’t care a fig about. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a minority of one, but I have, and it’s not a comfortable place to be. Imagine if you were that juror, and imagine thinking about what would happen if people who opposed your position found out your home address or phone number? I can think of a thousand reasons to just cave and go with the rest. But I know you’re upset with the verdict. I get that. But friend, this is how our justice system works. Holmes will never see the light of liberty for another day in his life. He will never have the freedom to do anything independently ever again. He’ll have to eat the same four or five prison meals the rest of his life. He’ll never marry, have children, or attend his parents’ funerals. He’ll never swim at a beach or climb a mountain. His world will be a cell, lots of hollering and screaming, and endless boredom. And for you and me, in a few months we’ll be on these forums bickering about something else, and Holmes will be a distant memory.
When someone thinks THEY are the story, the weeks and months leading up to their big moment, is worth the wait. It’s much like believing you’re a martyr, a stand-alone defender of the mentally ill, someone who had a mentally ill person in their lives, a person who has nothing else to stand for, a person who attends rallies, a person who carries signs and protests nearly everything or anything, or perhaps just this issue, not sure. But, when the majority of the populace, and the majority of this jury, heard and saw the same evidence, listened intently to testimony, realized the enormity of this event, the heartbreak, the victims, their loved ones, and yes, even a child, you would have to have a mission to find this monster guilty to a lesser degree.
We certainly will be discussing or commenting on other stories, but then you have Dunlap, he was in the news nearly every other month, following his trial and sentencing of death, getting closer to his fate, finally all avenues of reprieves were exhausted, his sentence was to be carried out, but our liberal governor could not find it in his heart to take every recommendation, from every jurist and judge, and placed himself above 18 years of trials, appeals, verdicts and outcomes, so you see, as with the 2 murderer’s in upper NY state, that old saw about ‘life in a small cell without anything for the rest of your life’, is not nearly always the case.
I love how liberals seem to “run everything”. They run the media, and the judicial system (apparently no one told Texas), they also run the entertainment industry and just about everything else at any given time when being against that thing is in your best interest.
They of course run the network media, they indeed run the entertainment industry, they are making a run at changing our justice system, the thug killed in Ferguson has been made a celebrity, and for what, the strong arm holdup of a small store and trying to wrest a cops gun away from him in his patrol car. Why do you think Fox news is the leader on cable? It’s the only outlet for the other side of the news, the conservative side. You see, some of us don’t agree with Obama, and his cronies make us sick, so you can listen to the swill provided by liberal network news all you want, they glorify Obama and his executive orders, we do not.
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Once I was a jury foreman and there was one crackpot juror whom created a hung jury and mistrial. Among 12 jurors you can count on at least one who has mental issues themselves.
You should never have been a foreman if you label a fellow juror a crackpot and mentally ill. Do you think people enjoy being a minority of one in that setting?
This was my unspoken impression. Fortunately we have freedom of thought, as no one can read our mind … at least yet.
If you haven’t already, sometime watch the movie “Twelve Angry Men”. Nobody ever said service on a jury is an easy business. The person who actually stands their ground as a minority of one or two can tell you that.
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Few people will say it out loud but are glad this is over, We should have been done with this 2 1/2 years ago. Hearing the “details” over and over can’t help anyone. It was a horrible, horrible thing. Holmes would have been in prison 2 1/2 years ago.
And will we ever know the financial cost of the trial?
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The headline is wrong, it should read ‘ONE JUROR’ not jury.
Actually, it was between 1-3. 2 were on the fence so as much as you could assume they would vote for death, they could have decided to vote for life. The jury decided to stop when the 1 juror was not on the fence at all, she was as firm on her decision for life, as those who were voting for death. And since it only takes 1 person to vote life, they decided to just end deliberations as there was no point.
I read the article, the other’s could have been convinced, but this ONE juror had their mind made up, I believe their mind was made up long before, during voir dire he or she lied about the death penalty.
What exactly did they lie about? The only requirements for being on a death jury is that you have to be open to imposing death, but it is by no means a requirement. So in your mind, there is no way this juror was swayed by the fact that he is severely mentally ill, and the ONLY logical conclusion is that they lied?
He was found to be sane, his ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ was thrown out, you miss that? If you think anyone, including this juror, could look and hear about the carnage that took place, after a careful plan was laid out by this monster, and the death and destruction he caused was shown to the jurors, still think, as our governor, that he or she knows better, than you’re not paying attention.
Him being sane does not make him any less severely mentally ill (as every single doc that testified stated so, and also that had he not had this mental illness, this event would have never happened). Clearly YOU were the one not paying attention.
‘protectionists’ like yourself, and most other liberals, will NEVER find anyone guilty for anything, period. This miserable thing murdered 12 innocents, seriously injured 70 more, and you’re worried about his mental state? I walk away from people with your beliefs, you’re not informed enough to make valid arguments. Go get a sign and protest for more welfare and money for other causes.
It’s called showing compassion and mercy in light of tragic events…something that nearly every religion preaches. You call him a monster, yet he didn’t choose to be mentally ill or have delusional thoughts. When you look at him, you look at him like he is a sick/rabid dig that needs to be put down. When is killing the sick justice? Where in the bible does God say “thou shall not kill…except when that person kills someone else, and then in order to show people killing people is wrong, we will then kill them.” Logic.