By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - The parents of the man charged in the fatal shootings of 12 people at a Colorado movie theater broke their silence over the 2012 killings on Friday, saying their son is mentally ill, "not a monster," and should be spared the death penalty.
Arlene and Robert Holmes urged prosecutors to accept a guilty plea from their son, James Holmes, and a life sentence without parole to avoid the “additional trauma” that a lengthy trial would inflict on survivors and victims' families.
”The quest for a death sentence for our mentally ill son can stop today, and everyone would be spared needless pain,” the couple said in a statement issued through their attorney and published by the Denver Post.
The couple said they spend “every moment” thinking of the victims. “We know the best outcome for our severely mentally ill son would be treatment for life in a psychiatric institution.”
Holmes, 27, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to opening fire inside a Denver-area cinema in July 2012 during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 movie-goers and wounding dozens more.
Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder and said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.
Defense lawyers have conceded that Holmes was the lone gunman but say he was in the throes of a psychotic episode, a claim his parents repeated in their statement.
“He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,” they said of their son, adding that before the mass shooting, “he never harmed anyone and ... had no criminal history.”
The first public comments from the accused killer’s parents came a month before jury selection is set to begin for his murder trial. Last week, 9,000 summonses were sent to prospective jurors.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour has told lawyers for both sides that they should be prepared to present their opening statements in late May or early June.
Holmes’ public defenders have said in a court filing their client would plead guilty if prosecutors would take capital punishment off the table, an offer that District Attorney George Brauchler rejected.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)