Jurors to weigh whether Colorado theater shooter should die
CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — Jurors quickly rejected Colorado theater shooter James Holmes’ claim that he was legally insane when he killed 12 people and injured 70 others, but the next phase of his trial could be more difficult.
Now jurors must weigh the extent of his mental illness against the enduring pain and heartache that he caused.
The same jury that convicted Holmes of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes stemming from his July 20, 2012, theater attack must soon decide whether he should pay with his life. His sentencing begins Wednesday and is expected to last a month.
Testimony experts say it could be even more emotional and polarizing than the 11-week trial.
At the heart of the penalty phase will be whether the lifelong suffering caused when Holmes opened fire on a crowded midnight movie premiere outweighs the extent of his mental illness.
Holmes’ defense attorneys, whose expert witnesses diagnosed Holmes with schizophrenia and other disorders, will try to show he is so sick that it would be wrong to execute him.
Prosecutors could offer even more heartbreaking accounts from victims, ranging from those Holmes maimed to the father of the youngest to die in the shooting, a 6-year-old girl.
Holmes’ parents, neighbors, a college roommate and officials from charities where Holmes volunteered could all be called to testify on his behalf, highlighting so-called mitigating factors that would warrant a life sentence over execution.
Jurors are to decide for themselves what mitigating factors exist. If they find those factors outweigh evidence presented by prosecutors, Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison. If not, the sentencing proceeds to a third phase in which prosecutors will call victims and survivors to testify about the impact of the shooting on their lives.
If the panel of nine women and three men can’t unanimously agree on punishment, Holmes will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Holmes has three opportunities to testify, but he said Tuesday he did not want to, at least during the first phase.
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