Grandfather says youngest theater victim was ‘little angel’
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The grandfather of the youngest victim of the Colorado theater shooting said the 6-year-old girl “personified a little angel” and showed great promise.
Robert Sullivan testified Wednesday during the last of two days of emotional testimony of grief and loss as prosecutors tried to persuade jurors that death, not life without parole, is the appropriate punishment for gunman James Holmes.
“There’s only six years there, but you can see the seeds of great potential,” Sullivan said of his granddaughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan. “She was a sweetheart.”
Jurors will begin deliberating the sentence Thursday or Friday, after prosecutors and defense attorneys make their last round of closing arguments.
Holmes was convicted of murdering 12 people and trying to murder 70 others three years ago inside a midnight Batman movie in suburban Denver. Jurors rejected his insanity plea.
Veronica was shot four times.
Her mother, Ashley Moser, who was paralyzed and lost her unborn baby in the July 2012 attack, struggled Wednesday to explain what she missed most about her daughter.
“Everything. Her smile, her laugh, the way she was my little silly-billy … always trying to make people happy,” Moser said.
Moser had an ultrasound scan hours before she and Veronica went to the theater with friends. Veronica was excited about becoming a big sister, Moser said, though she might not have fully grasped what that meant.
Now 28, Moser said she suffers from depression and anxiety so severe that she sometimes didn’t leave the house.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. repeatedly warned jurors not to be swayed by emotions, despite the highly charged testimony. “Your decision must reflect your individual reasoned moral judgment,” he said.
But the family stories often left jurors in tears. A defense attorney said she saw seven jurors crying during Moser’s testimony. The judge said he saw only two cry, and not excessively, dismissing concerns that their emotions would overwhelm the facts.
Caren Teves, who lost her firstborn in the shootings, told jurors her agonizing grief has devolved into constant pain. “It’s God-awful. It’s horrific. I miss everything about him,” Teves said.
She glared at Holmes. He swiveled in his chair.
“I did not realize that grief turned into physical pain,” she said. “It hurts your entire being, but it also gives you physical pain. I’m in pain every day.”
Teves said the stress of her son’s murder has accelerated her Parkinson’s disease. He was athletic, intelligent and thoughtful, she said.
“He made you feel good about yourself,” she said. “It was a very unique thing he could do: Whenever you left him, you just wanted to be a better person.”
Nineteen-year-old Cierra Cowden laughed between her tears as she described her father’s personality and the emotional wounds caused by his death. “I just feel like my family’s broken,” she said.
Gordon Cowden, a 51-year-old father of four, was the oldest killed. He was patient and charming, and so kind that he once stopped their car to herd a prairie dog to safety.
In the mornings, he would awaken his children with a kind of reveille, singing “dit-dit-dittle-ee,” his daughter testified. “I used to dread that sound, but I’d like to hear it now.”
Defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked jurors not to “answer death with death,” insisting that the crimes were caused by the psychotic breakdown of a mentally ill young man. Life without parole is the morally appropriate response, she said.
After a gunman attacked a movie theater audience in Tennessee and was killed by a SWAT team on Wednesday, Samour advised jurors to avoid all news until the Colorado trial is over. He didn’t mention the Tennessee incident, but he told jurors to ignore reports of any incidents similar to the Colorado shootings.
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