Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora Theater Shooter James Holmes Sentenced to Life in Prison

James Holmes will spend the rest of his life in prison.

On Friday, three and a half months after his trial began, a jury of nine women and three men delivered his punishment. Judge Carlos Samour read the verdicts just after 5 p.m. They were all the same.

“We, the jury," Samour read, "do not have a unanimous final sentencing verdict on this count and we, the jury, understand that as a result, the court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on this count.”

Holmes will not be executed.

On July 16, the jury found him guilty of murdering twelve people and attempting to murder seventy more when he opened fire at a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012. Because prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, the jurors then sat through another phase of the trial in which lawyers on both sides argued over what his punishment should be. Prosecutors sought execution. "For James Eagan Holmes," district attorney George Brauchler told jurors, "justice is death.”

Meanwhile, his defense attorneys implored the jury to show mercy based on his mental illness, which they said compelled him to commit the shooting. “Death is not a punishment for mental illness," defense attorney Tamara Brady told jurors. She emphasized that life in prison was punishment enough. "He will be punished for the rest of his life.”

Holmes's trial began on April 27, nearly three years after the massacre in the theater. There was never any disagreement about whether he was the gunman.

Instead, prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed about whether he should be held responsible. Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorneys argued that he suffers from schizophrenia and that his illness worsened in the months before the shooting. Holmes, they said, began to believe in a system of "human capital": He thought he could increase his self-worth by killing others.

"Mental illness is the reason — the sole reason — that this crime took place," attorney Daniel King told the jury during closing arguments.

But prosecutors argued that the gunman knew exactly what he was doing. They said the failed University of Colorado neuroscience graduate student made a detailed plan to attack the theater and then meticulously carried it out. Two court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Holmes after his arrest found that while he suffers from a mental illness, he was sane at the time of the crime. "This guy walked into that theater," Brauchler said during closing arguments, "and tried to murder everyone in it."

Now, the 27-year-old will die behind bars. But not 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