Saturday 22 October 2016

'Batman' killer trial to decide on his sanity - and his fate

Nick Allen in Colorado

Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30

James Holmes during a court appearance in 2012. Photo: AP
James Holmes during a court appearance in 2012. Photo: AP
James Holmes in 2006
A more recent image of James Holmes

James Holmes, the PhD student who carried out a mass shooting at a cinema, has gone on trial nearly three years after the crime shocked America, with the jury to decide whether he should be found guilty of murder, or declared insane.

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On July 20, 2012, Holmes, a 24-year-old studying neuroscience, opened fire inside the Century 16 cinema in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the Batman film 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

With his hair dyed to make him look like the Joker, a Batman villain, he killed 12 people and injured 70 more.

Yesterday, a prosecutor declared that two psychiatric exams found Colorado theatre gunman James Holmes to be sane as he meticulously plotted a mass murder, considering a bomb or biological warfare before settling on a shooting so that he could inflict more "collateral damage."

"Meticulous" was the word Holmes used twice during the exams, District Attorney George Brauchler said.

"Through this door is horror. Through this door are bullets, blood, brains and bodies. Through this door, one guy who thought as if he had lost his career, lost his love life, lost his purpose, came to execute a plan," said Brauchler, standing before a scale model of the theatre.

"Four-hundred people came into a boxlike theatre to be entertained, and one person came to slaughter them," the prosecutor said.

As his trial opened at Arapahoe County Court, seven miles south of the cinema, Holmes sat silently at a table with his legal team 20ft from the relations of victims who have called for him to be put to death by lethal injection.

The defendant's appearance had changed dramatically from the time of his first court hearing in 2012. Then wide-eyed, with dyed orange hair, yesterday he had a neat beard and he was dressed in a pale blue open-necked shirt and grey slacks. He was fitted with a harness, which was shackled to the floor and was not visible to the jury.

With oval-shaped, reddish glasses perched on his nose he read papers on the table in front of him and looked like the graduate student he once was. His parents, Bob Holmes (64), a Stanford-educated mathematician, and Arlene Holmes (60), a nurse, sat a few feet behind him.

Holmes faces a total of 166 charges of murder, attempted murder, possessing explosives and committing a crime of violence.

The charges say he acted with "an attitude of universal malice" and exhibited "extreme indifference to the value of human life".

He admits he was the gunman but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and his lawyers will argue that he was in the grip of a psychotic episode. The jury must decide whether Holmes was sane, in which case he will be found guilty and the jury will consider whether to recommend the death penalty.

If they find he was insane, he will be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. In Colorado, defendants are not liable for their acts if their minds are found to be so "diseased" that they cannot distinguish right from wrong.

Judge Carlos Samour told the jurors: "You have to keep an open mind throughout the trial, remembering that Mr Holmes is presumed innocent. Folks, we are depending on you to uphold the oath you have taken."

According to prosecutors, Holmes was wearing a gas mask and carrying an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, a.40-calibre pistol and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, more than enough to kill all 420 people in the cinema at the time of the attack.

The youngest of the 12 who died was six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

In the seating area of the court assigned to the victims' families there were signs asking people to refrain from outbursts. There were four armed police officers in the court. Outside court, Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend, Rebecca Wingo, died, said: "We've all been to therapists and have talked to our families and have our support groups, so we're prepared. It's going to be quite the journey."

Last month, Mrs Holmes published a book in which she said executing her son would be "futile". She said he was "not a monster" and was suffering severe mental illness.

During the three years it took to get the case to trial, there were legal arguments over psychiatric evaluations, whether Holmes should be allowed to claim insanity as a defence and whether the death penalty could be an option.

Holmes's lawyers offered a deal in which he would plead guilty in return for life in jail without parole, but that was rejected. District Attorney Brauchler said: "In this case, for James Holmes, justice is death."

A total of 9,000 people received jury summonses, which was thought to be the largest jury pool called in the US.

The trial could take four months. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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