Aurora Theater Shooting

Inside the Courtroom As the Aurora Theater Shooting Verdicts Were Read

It was only a few minutes. But in the hushed courtroom, where nearly all eyes were on the judge Thursday afternoon, the wait for the verdicts seemed like it lasted many more.

The jury had entered moments before with an armful of manila envelopes. Inside were 165 verdict forms, one for each charge faced by Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. From the gallery, it appeared as though Judge Carlos Samour was inspecting them before reading them aloud. The loudest sound was the crinkling of envelopes and the rustling of papers, which could be heard through the judge's microphone.

Attorneys on both sides watched Samour intently. So did the victims, who sat on one side of the bright, wood-paneled courtroom in seats dotted with tissue boxes. It had been almost three years since the gunman took twelve lives and inflicted horror and pain on countless more. Now, the answer to the question of whether he would be found guilty of murder was in that stack of papers.

Most of the jurors kept their gaze on Samour, save for one woman in the back row of the jury box who wiped at her eyes. She was looking out into the gallery. That's also where Holmes's parents sat, holding hands. A young woman from Holmes's defense team draped her arm around the shoulders of Holmes's mother, Arlene. "Keep breathing," she whispered.

Just after 4:15 p.m., Samour looked up.

"Would the defendant please stand for the reading of the verdict?" he said.

Holmes rose from his seat at the defense table, as did his attorneys. The 27-year-old put his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants. When the judge read the first verdict — guilty of murder in the first degree — Holmes stood still, showing no emotion.

He stayed that way for the next hour, as Samour read the remaining 164 verdicts one by one. The judge did not rush, and he took care to ennunciate each victim's name. Some victims and family members quietly cried upon hearing the verdicts. Others grasped each others' hands, leaned into each others' shoulders, covered their faces with their hands, nodded stoically or crumpled forward in their seats.

At no point did Holmes look back at his parents, who seemed almost frozen as they listened.

"We, the jury," Samour read, "find the defendant, James Eagan Holmes, guilty..." Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Just after 5:15 p.m., the judge finished. "All right," he said to Holmes, "you may be seated."

Defense attorney Daniel King asked that Samour poll the jury. The focus shifted to the nineteen people in the jury box, twelve of whom deliberated for less than thirteen hours before reaching the verdicts and seven of whom served as alternates. The judge asked each of the twelve deliberating jurors if the verdicts were true. "Yes, your honor," several said. Others answered, "Yes, sir."

The jury rejected Holmes's argument that he was insane at the time of the crime. For each of the twelve deceased victims, they found him guilty on two counts: first-degree murder after deliberation and first-degree murder with extreme indifference. He was also found guilty of two attempted-murder charges for each of the seventy wounded victims. In addition, the jury convicted him of possessing explosives for rigging his Aurora apartment with homemade bombs in an apparent attempt to divert police away from the theater.

The trial will now enter the penalty phase. All nineteen jurors will return to the courtroom on Wednesday to hear evidence meant to help them decide Holmes's punishment. The jury will have a choice: life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.
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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar