May 24, 2019



aptopix-colorado-shootingCENTENNIAL, Colo. — A verdict has been reached in the highly-anticipated capital murder case against James Holmes, the gunman who killed 12 people when he opened fire on a sold-out Colorado movie theater three years ago.

The jury’s decision comes on day two of deliberations after meeting for about 14 hours.

Holmes, 27, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense attorneys say the heavily armed Holmes was in clutches of a psychotic episode when he ambushed the theater watching a midnight showing of the Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012.

Four psychiatrists who interviewed Holmes agreed that he suffers mental illness, but were split on whether he met the criteria to be delclared insane at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors have painted a pictured of a conniving egomaniac who killed for enjoyment.

The case has drawn international attention and stoked fiery debate about the death penalty, gun control and the execution of people who are mentally ill. A rampage killer going to trial has also boosted interest. Most mass killers commit suicide or are killed by police at the scene.

If convicted of murder, the former neuroscience graduate student could be sentenced to death. That decision would be come during a penalty phase where both sides will present evidence and arguments. A decision by the jury to spare his life would result in a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors rejected a plea offer to a life sentence without parole in 2013. “Justice is death,” District Attorney George Brauchler said at the time.

If the jury of nine women and three men find Holmes not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed indefinitely to the state’s mental hospital 100 miles south of Denver. That scenario would leave open the possibility that he could be released if he were some day declared to be sane.

The tragedy at the Denver-area theater is among the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. Holmes, dressed in police-like riot gear, was armed with three guns and more than 700 rounds of ammunition. Police said the bloodshed would have been worse, but the gunman’s semi-automatic assault rifle jammed during the attack.

“He only stopped when the gun stopped,” Brauchler told the jury during closing arguments.

Those killed ranged in age from a 6-year-old kindergartner to a 51-year-old father of four. Fifty-eight moviegoers were wounded by gunfire, and 12 more were suffered other injuries in the commotion to escape the theater.

Those killed include Jon Blunk, 26; Alexander Boik, 18; Jesse Childress, 29; Alex Teves, 24; Gordon Cowden, 51; Jessica Ghawi, 24; John Larimer, 27; Matt McQuinn, 27; Micayla Medek, 23, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6; Alex Sullivan, 27; and Rebecca Wingo, 32. Some of the wounded suffered life-changing injuries including brain damage and paralysis.

It took 2½ years for the case to ever reach jury selection earlier this year. Officials have said the number of victims, amount of evidence and legal issues surrounding the death penalty and Holmes’ insanity plea contributed to the delay. Twelve jurors and 12 alternates were picked from a pool 9,000 candidates.

In February, records obtained by Yahoo News revealed the cost of the case had already exceeded $5 million three months before opening statements were made.

Holmes was charged with 165 criminal counts — each murder and attempted murder charge carries separate charges, one for showing premeditation and one for showing extreme indifference to life. He is also charged with possessing explosives because he left his apartment ahead of the attack booby-trapped with homemade bombs.

Under Colorado law, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity means that Holmes acknowledges committing the acts, but believes he wasn’t responsible because he was incapable of determining right from wrong at the time of the shooting. The prosecution must prove he was sane for him to be found guilty.

“We know what insanity is … this ain’t it,” Brauchler said during closing arguments. “He knew what he was doing when he killed those people. He intended to kill them. That was his specific goal.”

During the 11-week trial, jurors heard from nearly 300 witnesses, were shown more than 1,500 photos — including unsettling images of the grisly crime scene — and viewed 24 hours of video.

Much of the video was interviews Holmes has done with psychiatrists since the massacre. The four psychiatrists who evaluated Holmes agreed that he suffers from Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder, but they split on whether he was legally insane at the time of shootings. The two court-appointed psychiatrists concluded he was sane, but the two working for the defense found he was legally insane.

“You cannot divorce the mental illness from this case or from Mr. Holmes,” defense attorney Daniel King told jurors during his closing argument. “Schizophrenia is a disease, inherited like cancer. We don’t blame people for getting cancer.”

Holmes surrendered to police without incident near his car behind the theater after the shooting, but prosecutors said he may have wanted to flee. Evidence recovered from his two-door hatchback included devices used to throw on the road and puncture the tires of pursuing vehicles, cash, backpacks, a first aid kit, a canister of tear gas and a .40-caliber handgun.

Prosecutors said Holmes meticulously planned the massacre for months in response to a series of personal failures including losing his first-ever girlfriend and dropping out of graduate school.

“On July 20, 2012, he tried to murder a theater full of people because he thought it would make him feel better and increase his self-worth,” Brauchler said when the trial stared on April 27.

The defense team doesn’t contest that Holmes spent three months purchasing guns, explosives and charting the attack. King, the lead court-appointed defense attorney, said Holmes began suffering from serious delusions in March 2012 that intensified when he was misdiagnosed and given anti-anxiety medication in May 2012.

The delusions and hallucinations, King said, involved Holmes believing that murder would increase his “human capital.”

“He was on autopilot. He was following the plan,” King told the jury. “We can’t attribute logic to it. That’s why it’s psychotic.”

The defense attorney used his two-hour allotment to challenge jury to change what he called America’s denial about mental illness.

“Now is the time,” King said. “This is the place and you are the people.”

Holmes did not testify in his own defense.


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