Colo. theater jurors say death penalty to be considered

Sadie Gurman
Associated Press

Centennial, Colo. — Jurors decided unanimously Thursday that the Colorado theater attack was so heinous, depraved and cruel that it deserves the death penalty. Defense lawyers will now try to show why the life of James Holmes should be spared nevertheless.

Jurors said capital punishment is justified because Holmes murdered a large number of victims; caused a grave risk of death to others; committed murder in a heinous, cruel or depraved manner; and laid in wait or ambush.

One factor jurors said prosecutors did not prove was that Holmes intentionally killed a child, but the other “aggravating factors” ensure that jurors will continue to consider whether he should die.

Told to stand, Holmes remained calm with his hands in his pockets, looking directly at Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. as he read the jury’s findings.

Prosecutors said Holmes wanted to murder as many as he could in the audience of more than 400 people but failed to kill more than 12 because his assault rifle jammed.

The defense effectively conceded these points, focusing instead on their efforts to show that his mental illness and other “mitigating factors” make it wrong to execute him despite the nature of the crimes.

“A mitigating factor is not a justification or an excuse for the crime. It’s a matter of fairness or mercy, which can be invoked to reduce the degree of a defendant’s moral culpability,” the judge instructed.

After this next phase, jurors will decide whether his mental problems outweigh the lifelong suffering Holmes caused. If so, the trial will end there, with a life sentence instead of the death penalty. If not, the sentencing will move into a final phase, in which victims and their relatives would describe the impacts of Holmes’ crimes.

While the jury decides the murder sentences, Colorado law already establishes penalties for his convictions on the lesser charges. Holmes wounded 58 people and 12 others were injured in the chaos of the attack.

On Wednesday, prosecutor Rich Orman showed jurors photos of each person killed and read their names — bringing some of their relatives in the courtroom to tears. Orman reminded jurors that Holmes threw tear gas and sprayed so much gunfire that even moviegoers hiding behind seats couldn’t avoid being hurt.

“The victims were unaware of any danger, watching a movie, in a theater, a place of joy and of safety,” he said. “The victims died surrounded by screaming, by pain and by anguish.”

Holmes deliberately and cruelly killed all of them, including 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan who “had four gunshot wounds to her little body,” Orman said.

But jurors didn’t agree that Holmes showed the necessary intent in the girl’s death for this to be an “aggravating factor.” They came to that decision after reviewing a video in which Holmes asked police: “There weren’t any children hurt, were there?”