Jury in Aurora theater shooting keeps death penalty option for Holmes

Colorado shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes © RJ Sangosti
The jury sentencing James Holmes, who fatally shot 12 people and injured many more in July 2012 during a showing of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in a Colorado movie theater, has decided to move to another phase of death penalty proceedings.

The jury in the case has left the death penalty option open rather than opting for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

In mid-July, Holmes was found guilty on all first-degree murder charges levied against him. The 27-year-old Holmes never denied that he was behind the shooting, and had pleaded not guilty by way of insanity.

The former neuroscience doctoral student deployed tear gas and shot indiscriminately into an Aurora, Colorado moviegoing audience with several firearms. Twelve people were killed and 70 others were injured as a result.

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Among the 165 charges against him were 24 counts of first-degree murder, 116 counts of attempted first-degree murder, and one charge of illegally possessing an explosive.

The defense relied on depicting Holmes as mental unstable.

“The evidence is clear that he could not control his thoughts … he could not control his actions, and he could not control his perceptions,” Holmes’ defense attorney, Dan King, said during closing arguments.

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While four psychiatrists agreed that Holmes suffered from Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder, but they were not unanimous in finding him legally insane while carrying out the attack. Both court-appointed doctors found him sane, while the two consulted by the defense concluded he was not.

Holmes was presented by the defense as a former graduate student who was overwhelmed by his degraded mental health. Holmes dropped out of a neuroscience program a few weeks before the theater attack.

The prosecution argued that Holmes always knew what he was doing and intended to kill those he shot at.

“Look at the evidence, then hold this man accountable,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said. “Reject this claim that he didn’t know right from wrong when he murdered those people and tried to kill the others.”

More than 200 witnesses took the stand during the three-month trial.