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Monday 24 October 2016

Jury in Colorado movie massacre trial reaches verdict on punishment

Published 07/08/2015 | 21:14

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado, in this file photo taken June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado, in this file photo taken June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool

Jurors deliberating on whether gunman James Holmes should be executed for the Colorado cinema massacre reached a verdict on Friday after watching a video of the body-strewn theater recorded after he killed 12 people and wounded 70 inside a midnight screening of a Batman film.

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A court spokesman said the verdict forms had been completed and that Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour would take the bench at 5 p.m. local time (1900 ET).

The jury already convicted the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student last month on all charges from the July 2012 mass shooting in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The panel of nine women and three men then had to decide if he will be executed, or serve life with no chance of parole. They must be unanimous that death is appropriate, otherwise Holmes will get an automatic life sentence.

Samour earlier granted the panel's request for a television and DVD player so they could watch a 45-minute crime scene video from the theater that was played during the trial.

The judge granted the request over the objections of the defense, but told the jury they could only view the video once.

The proceedings against Holmes began in late April and reached penalty phase closing arguments on Thursday after 60 days of trial, 306 witnesses, and the introduction of nearly 2,700 pieces of evidence.

In his speech to the jury, District Attorney George Brauchler said justice for Holmes meant execution for the "horror and evil" he wrought inside the crowded cinema.

During the trial, dozens of wounded survivors testified about how they had tried to hide from the gunman's hail of bullets, some of them steel-penetrating rounds, or stumbled over the bodies of loved ones as they tried to flee.

Defense lawyer Tamara Brady asked jurors whether they were ready to sign the death warrant of a mentally ill person and said they would have to live with the decision for the rest of their lives.

While the jury has already rejected Holmes' plea of insanity, Brady said all the doctors the panel had heard from in court had agreed that he was seriously mentally ill.

Holmes has remained mostly expressionless throughout the trial, occasionally turning to look when a photograph of himself appears on a court television. The defense says he suffers schizophrenia, and that his "aloof or distracted" demeanor is caused by anti-psychosis drugs that treat, but do not cure, the disease.

Holmes, who had no previous criminal record, bought a ticket for the screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" before slipping out to his car behind the building and changing into what prosecutors called a "kill suit" of ballistic helmet, gas mask, and head to toe body armor.

He returned and threw a teargas canister into the theater, then opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, pump action shotgun and pistol. Holmes has declined to testify in his own defense, or to make an allocution statement to the jury.

But the panel did watch more than 22 hours of Holmes speaking to a court-appointed psychiatrist in a videotaped sanity examination.

In the video, Holmes confirmed most of the details of the mass shooting, including his weapons purchases and his plan to draw police and other first responders away from the theater by rigging his apartment with homemade explosives.


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