Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Cinema shooter spared death penalty

NOT UNANIMOUS:Jury members had to all agree the death penalty was warranted, but for each of the 12 murder counts, they said they did not have a unanimous verdict

AFP, CENTENNIAL, Colorado

Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, center, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theater attack, hold each other as they listen to a US district attorney speak outside the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colorado, on Friday.

Photo: AP

The gunman who stormed a Batman movie premiere and killed 12 cinemagoers escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to life behind bars on Friday.

A Colorado jury failed to unanimously agree on execution for 27-year-old former graduate student James Holmes, obliging the judge to impose a sentence of life without parole.

Last month, the killer had been convicted on 12 counts of murder in the first degree and scores more charges including murder, attempted murder and explosives possession. However, defense counsel argued he has a mental illness and urged jurors to show clemency, an appeal apparently heeded by at least one of the panel of nine women and three men.

On each of the 12 murder counts that could have merited the death penalty, the jury said in a statement read to the court: “We do not have a unanimous final sentencing verdict on this count.”

District Judge Carlos Samour thanked jurors for their service and set Aug. 24 to Aug. 26 as the dates for Holmes’s formal sentencing.

Holmes attacked the packed premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at the Century 16 theater in Aurora on July 20, 2012, spraying bullets into the auditorium.

Clad in body armor and with dyed-orange hair, he fired hundreds of rounds before police halted a spree that left 12 people dead, including a six-year-old child.

Three years later, in July of this year, he was convicted on 165 charges, the jury rejecting the defense’s argument that he was not guilty because of his mental illness.

Robert Sullivan, grandfather of the youngest person killed, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, criticized the jury.

“They didn’t buy his sanity ... and then they bailed at the end. No, I’m sorry,” Sullivan said. “It’s not justice. Our loved ones are still gone.”

The prosecution had argued that Holmes should be executed through lethal injection.

“He picked the time, manner and method of their deaths. Does he deserve a life sentence for that?” District Attorney George Brauchler said in his closing arguments on Thursday. “This is about justice.”

Twice previously in the 15-week trial, jurors had rejected the mental illness defense.

First they found Holmes guilty rather than not-guilty by reason of insanity. Then they found that mental illness was not a mitigating factor in the shootings.

In the closing hours of their deliberations the jury reviewed a 45-minute, silent video of the gruesome crime scene — a theater auditorium littered with bullets, bodies, popcorn, blood and gore.

However, finally they were unable to agree a sentence.

Holmes, who was wearing khaki pants and a blue shirt in court, looked calm and had his hands in his pockets. He showed no reaction to the verdicts on Friday.

After a guilty verdict in Colorado death penalty cases, jurors are asked to deliberate three times as to whether the appropriate punishment is death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

During the guilt or innocence part of the trial, jurors heard from several of the 70 survivors who were injured in the shootings.

Holmes was also found guilty on 140 counts of attempted murder and will be sentenced on those charges at a later date.

Colorado has executed a prisoner by lethal injection only once since 1977, rapist and murderer Gary Lee Davis in 1997.

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