Lawyers argue life or death for Colorado movie gunman

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 30, 2015 1:14 PM

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Defense attorneys said the Colorado movie massacre gunman was schizophrenic and they urged jurors on Thursday to spare his life, while prosecutors said James Holmes must not be able to use mental illness as a shield.

"Had he not been inflicted with the disease that attacked his brain, he never would have dyed his hair orange, he never would have purchased all of those guns and all of that ammunition, and this heartbreaking tragedy would never have occurred," defense attorney Tamara Brady told the jury

Lead prosecutor George Brauchler wrapped up closing arguments in the trial's penalty phase, saying nobody in their right mind could plan the slaughter of a theater full of people.

"And we should take comfort in that. But not having the same brain that we have does not protect you from the ramifications of those decisions," Brauchler said.

"He made a decision to massacre and he did. Twelve dead from the community. Can anything outweigh that? No. No."

For the defense, Brady said no one could turn back time, bring back the dead, or heal the wounds of those injured when Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 at a midnight screening of a Batman film.

"Nothing can erase July 20, 2012," she said.

The jury of nine women and three men has already found the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student guilty on all 165 counts relating to the mass shooting inside the Century 16 cinema in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

They have also determined that aggravating factors were proved which could justify the death penalty unless the defense can persuade them that mitigating factors are more important.

Since they rejected his insanity plea, Brady said, there was no way Holmes could now be sent to a psychiatric hospital.

"That's over. That's off the table. You have declared him guilty, you have declared him responsible, and you have declared that he will be punished. And he will be punished. It's just which punishment he gets," she said.

Brauchler reminded the jurors that they have already found Holmes committed his killings in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner. The victims were trapped in the darkness, surrounded by screams of pain and fear.

"If you close your eyes you can picture it all," the prosecutor said. "There was nothing they could do about it. And he saw to that."

'YOU GIVE THE WORD'

After Brauchler finished his closing argument, the panel began deliberating. If the jurors vote unanimously that mitigating factors outweigh aggravating ones, Holmes will get an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole.

If they do not, the jurors will hear victim impact testimony before ultimately deliberating again on whether Holmes should be put to death by lethal injection. For that phase, prosecutors have said they would expect to call 15 victims to testify.

If the jury does not reach a verdict on mitigation before the end of Thursday, deliberations would resume on Monday after a day off on Friday.

The side of the public seating reserved for victims and their relatives in the small, windowless courtroom was packed on Thursday for closing arguments. It had been mostly empty during the mitigation phase of the trial in which defense witnesses described Holmes as a quiet, kind kid who was never in trouble growing up.

Last, they heard from his younger sister, Chris, his statistician father Bob, and his mother, a nurse, Arlene. They all said they still loved him, and blamed severe mental illness for what he did.

Brauchler said that testimony had been particularly hard to listen to, and that it was right to feel sympathy for the parents of a mass murderer.

"It is impossible to imagine what they are going through, and you could hear the pain in their voices and you could see it in their faces. All of that is true," Brauchler said.

"If you feel sympathy ... it must be sympathy for him," he added, pointing at the gunman. "Not for them. Feel it, talk about it, but it can't be part of this process."

Brady said jurors had the right and the responsibility to know everything about someone's life before deciding if they live or die. She said Holmes was "obviously" mentally ill.

"It was not about notoriety. It was not about hatred. It was about the delusion," she said.

"You give the word, and this ends with a life sentence."

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting and writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)