James Holmes murder trial: Case goes to the jury
CENTENNIAL, Colorado — The facts of that horrible night in July 2012 are not in debate. James Holmes went to an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and gunned down 12 people. Scores more were wounded or injured.
But was he psychotic, unable to comprehend the consequences of his actions?
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler and defense attorney Dan King disagree.
During closing arguments in Holmes’ trial Tuesday, Brauchler painted a picture of a villain who meticulously and carefully planned a mass murder.
“Look at the evidence then hold this man accountable,” Brauchler said as he finished his remarks. “Reject this claim that he didn’t know right from wrong when he murdered those people and tried to kill the others. … That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt, and he needs to be held accountable for what he did.”
King blamed the shootings on a longstanding mental illness.
“The evidence is clear, that he could not control his thoughts, that he could not control his actions, and he could not control his perceptions,” the defense attorney said.
King said psychosis had obscured Holmes’ ability to think about things the way a rational person does.
“Only the mental illness caused this to happen and nothing else,” he said.
The two attorneys spoke to the jurors for almost the entire allotted two hours each. Judge Carlos Samour then named from the pool of 19 people who have sat through the lengthy trial the 12 jurors who will begin deliberating the case Wednesday.
Their decision on 165 charges will come about six months after jury selection began and more than 11 weeks after the trial’s start.
Prosecutors alone called more than 200 witnesses to the stand, among them investigators, students who knew Holmes and his ex-girlfriend.
By virtue of his pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, the now 27-year-old Holmes — who didn’t testify — has never denied he was behind the killing. But given his mental state, his lawyers argue that he should not be found culpable.
There were no empty seats in the courtroom. Victim Micayla Medek’s grandmother began weeping when her granddaughter’s name was read aloud in court along with all 12 victims who were killed and the 70 names of the wounded.
It was the most emotional part of the jury instructions for those in court.
Survivors in court included Caleb Medley and Joshua Nolan.
James Holmes’ parents were there.
The grandparents of Veronica Moser-Sullivan, a 6-year-old who was killed that night, also were there. They told CNN the tragedy has weighed heavily on them for three years. They said they keep on thinking about the “what ifs?,” especially: What if Veronica hadn’t gone to the movie that night?
In just minutes, 12 died
Having bought a ticket 12 days earlier, Holmes on July 19, 2012, walked into the theater No. 9 screening of “The Dark Night Rises” like other patrons. He then walked out through a rear door, which he left propped open.
Just after midnight, some 18 minutes after the movie began, he — with his bright red-orange hair looking like the Joker — returned wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, black gloves and protective gear for his legs, throat and groin.
Two tear gas canisters exploded in the theater, then gunfire erupted from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40 caliber handgun. The real-life horror story ended with Holmes’ arrest outside the theater about seven minutes after the first 911 calls were made to police.
But it wasn’t in time to save the lives of Jonathan Blunk, Alexander Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Thomas Larimer, Matthew McQuinn, Medek, Alex Sullivan, Alexander Teves, Rebecca Ann Wingo and the youngest victim, Moser-Sullivan.
Who was James Holmes?
Prosecutors painted a picture of a once-promising neuroscience student who knew exactly what he was doing, both carrying out the attack and rigging his apartment with makeshift explosives ahead of authorities’ arrival.
“Nothing was random,” said FBI Special Agent Christopher Rigopoulos, who was part of the evidence collection team who saw how Holmes’ apartment contained pickle jars filled with napalm and bullets linked together, plastic soda bottles filled with gasoline and other dangerous concoctions.
Those who spent time with Holmes as a PhD student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora described him as quiet and socially awkward, but seemingly not “detached from reality.”
Mother: ‘Mentally ill … need treatment, not execution’
If the jurors decide to convict Holmes on multiple murder charges, the next question would be what price he’ll pay.
In 2013, the prosecution signaled it would seek the death penalty.
“It is my determination and my intention that in this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” Brauchler said then.
Holmes’ lawyers have argued that he wasn’t in his right mind at the time of the shootings. And his parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, haven’t spoken publicly, but they have written two open letters and published a prayer book detailing the family’s internal struggle and pleading for their son’s life.
Wrote Arlene Holmes, “Severely mentally ill people need treatment, not execution.”
CNN’s Ana Cabrera reported from Centennial, Colorado, and Greg Botelho and Steve Almasy reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Michael Martinez and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.
By Ana Cabrera, Greg Botelho and Steve Almasy