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Thursday 26 April 2018

Batman gunman found guilty of Colorado cinema murders

Cinema gunman James Holmes was found guilty of murdering 12 people during a screening of a Batman film in Colorado (The Denver Post/AP)
Cinema gunman James Holmes was found guilty of murdering 12 people during a screening of a Batman film in Colorado (The Denver Post/AP)
Tom Teves and his wife Karen, whose son Alex was killed in the 2012 Aurora cinema massacre, leave Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colorado, after closing arguments in the trial of James Holmes (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

A jury has found Colorado cinema gunman James Holmes guilty of murder in a methodically-planned attack that left 12 dead and dozens wounded during a midnight premiere of a Batman film.

The verdict means the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate could receive the death penalty for the 2012 shooting.

Jurors at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colorado, reached their decision after deliberating for about 13 hours over two days. They must now decide whether Holmes should be executed or sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and his lawyers argued he was so addled by mental illness that he was unable to tell right from wrong at the time of the shootings at the Aurora cinema.

But prosecutors maintained the attack was meticulously planned over months and Holmes knew what he was doing.

The verdict came almost three years after Holmes, dressed head-to-toe in body armour, slipped through the emergency exit of the darkened cinema in suburban Denver and replaced the Hollywood violence of the movie The Dark Knight Rises with real human carnage.

His victims included two active-duty servicemen, a single mother, a man celebrating his 27th birthday and an aspiring broadcaster who had survived a mall shooting in Toronto. Several died shielding friends or loved ones.

The trial offered a rare glimpse into the mind of a mass shooter, as most are killed by police, kill themselves or plead guilty.

Prosecutors argued that Holmes knew exactly what he was doing when he gunned down strangers in the stadium-style cinema, taking aim at those who fled. They painted him as a calculated killer who sought to assuage his failures in school and romance with a mass murder that he believed would increase his personal worth.

He snapped photos of himself with fiery orange hair and scrawled his plans for the massacre in a spiral notebook he sent his university psychiatrist just hours before the attack, all in a calculated effort to be remembered, prosecutors said.

The prosecution called more than 200 witnesses over two months, more than 70 of them survivors, including some who were missing limbs and using wheelchairs. They recalled the panic to escape the black-clad gunman.

The youngest to die was a six-year-old girl whose mother also suffered a miscarriage and was paralysed in the attack. Another woman who was nine months' pregnant at the time described her agonising decision to leave her wounded husband behind in the cinema to save their baby.

She later gave birth in the same hospital where he was in a coma. He can no longer walk and has trouble talking.

That Holmes was the lone gunman was never in doubt. He was arrested in the car park as survivors were still fleeing and warned police he had rigged his nearby apartment into a potentially lethal booby trap, which he hoped would divert first responders from the cinema.

His lawyers said he suffers from schizophrenia and was in the grip of a psychotic breakdown so severe that he was unable to tell right from wrong - Colorado's standard for insanity.

They said he was delusional even as he secretively acquired the three murder weapons - a shotgun, a handgun and an AR-15 rifle - while concealing his plans from friends and two worried psychiatrists in the months before the shooting.

Defence lawyers tried to present him as a once-promising student so crippled by mental illness that he could not reveal his struggles to anyone who might have helped. They called two psychiatrists, including a nationally known schizophrenia expert, who concluded Holmes was psychotic and legally insane.

But two state-appointed doctors found otherwise, giving evidence for prosecutors that no matter what Holmes' mental state was that night, he knew what he was doing was wrong.

Jurors watched nearly 22 hours of videotaped interviews showing Holmes talking in a flat, mechanical tone about his desire to kill strangers to increase his self-worth. Using short, reluctant answers, he said he felt nothing as he fired, blasting techno music through his earphones to drown out his victims' screams.

Prosecutors showed jurors Holmes' spiral notebook, where he scribbled a self-diagnosis of his "broken mind" and described his "obsession to kill" since childhood. The pages alternate between incoherent ramblings and elaborate plans for the killings, including lists of weapons to buy and diagrams showing which auditoriums in the cinema complex would allow for the most casualties.

Jurors saw an investigator's video of the shooting's aftermath. It showed bodies wedged between rows of seats and sprawled across aisles amid spent ammunition, spilled popcorn and blood.

During the sentencing phase, Holmes' lawyers will present so-called mitigating factors that they hope will save his life. Those will probably include more evidence of mental illness and a sympathetic portrayal of his childhood.

Prosecutors will present so-called aggravating factors in support of the death penalty, including the large number of victims.

Holmes, wearing a blue dress shirt and khakis, showed no visible reaction as the judge read the jury's verdict on all 165 counts against him.

Press Association

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