Friday, 7 August 2015

Cinema Killer James Holmes Spared Death Penalty


Colorado cinema gunman James Holmes will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole after the jury rejected the death penalty for his 2012 shooting rampage. Jurors in the closely watched trial reached a sentencing verdict on Friday after less than one full day of deliberation. Holmes, 27, was convicted last month on 165 counts including the first-degree murder of 12 people killed in the 20 July 2012 shooting massacre. Seventy people were also wounded. Jurors paved the way for a possible death sentence earlier in the week when they decided that aggravating factors in the case counted for more than mitigating ones such as mental illness. However, for each of the counts read out by Judge Carlos Samour Jr, the jury of nine women and three men said: "We do not have a unanimous final sentencing verdict on this count and understand the court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole."

Holmes had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. After deliberating briefly on Thursday, the jury on Friday requested to review a video of the body-strewn Aurora theatre recorded after the attack. Within six-and-a-half hours, the panel had returned its verdict. Judge Carlos Samour Jr retook the bench at 5pm local time (12am UK time) and read out the verdict in court. He also thanked the jury for their service during the three-month trial. They are now free to talk about the case, but he stressed that they are under no obligation to do so.

During the trial's sentencing phase, the defense argued that executing Holmes in light of his mental illness would be wrong. Two defense-hired psychiatrists testified that the former neuroscience student was suffering from schizophrenia and could not distinguish right from wrong. Defense lawyer Tamara Brady asked jurors on Thursday whether they were prepared to sign the death warrant of a mentally ill person, adding it was a decision they would live with for the rest of their lives. Prosecutors countered with testimony from two court-appointed doctors who said that although Holmes suffered from mental illness, he knew what he was doing when he opened fire inside the crowded cinema during a screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. In his closing arguments, District Attorney George Brauchler said death was the only appropriate sentence for the "horror and evil" Holmes wrought. Colorado has executed just one inmate in nearly 50 years. A recent Denver Post poll showed 70% of Colorado residents’ surveyed favored execution in Holmes' case. However, victims' families had said they were conflicted over whether Holmes should be put to death. Lonnie Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter was killed in the attack, had concerns that there would be decades of appeals in the event of a death sentence. Marcus Weaver, a Christian initially opposed to capital punishment, changed his mind after hearing the testimony of fellow moviegoers. He also described seeing no remorse in Holmes' eyes as he took the stand.

Henry J Williams

Author & Editor

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