Aurora Theater Shooter James Holmes To Face Death Penalty
The prosecutors pursuing murder charges against Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes have announced their intention to seek the death penalty:
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — James E. Holmes deserves to die for killing 12 people in a storm of bullets inside a packed Colorado movie theater one night last July, prosecutors said in a hearing here on Monday. “For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” the Arapahoe County district attorney, George Brauchler, said in court.
In deciding to pursue the death penalty against Mr. Holmes, prosecutors rejected a plea offer floated last week by Mr. Holmes’s lawyers, in which he would have pleaded guilty to the shooting in exchange for life in prison with no chance of parole.
The decision by the district attorney came after consultations with dozens of victims and their families. In the courtroom, some of the victims’ family members began crying at the prosecutors’ announcement.
It now lays the path for a long trial that will hinge on questions of whether Mr. Holmes, a 25-year-old former neuroscience student, was legally insane at the time of the shooting. Although he has not entered an insanity plea, his lawyers have called him mentally ill, and have strongly suggested that they will center their defense on his mental state.
Weeks before the killings, Mr. Holmes saw a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado, Denver, where he had been a student. His records, any history of mental illness, and a notebook that he sent to the psychiatrist the day before the shooting could become a central part of a trial.
With little doubt that Mr. Holmes was the gunman, an insanity defense may be his lawyers’ only option.
While Holmes’s culpability is without question, getting the death penalty is by no means an easy task:
Indeed, the Holmes trial will now move forward with a start date scheduled for August 5, though Holmes’s attorneys are expected to request a delay. They are expected to mount an insanity defense, which is much easier to do in Colorado. As we’ve explained, in most states the burden of proving insanity falls on the defense. But in Colorado it’s the prosecutors’ job. They have to prove he is not insane, instead of the defense proving he is insane, which is how most states operate. While there is little doubt that Holmes was the shooter — a guilty plea offer is a tacit admission, after all — those 800 interviews will have to amount to something like a burden of proof. But expect to hear from many psychological experts regarding the insanity of Holmes as two of the most dramatic issues in America right now — mental health and gun violence — collide in a high profile summer trial.
To clarify this post, the relevant question isn’t Holmes’s mental state, but his mental state at the time of the crime. While the standards vary from state to state, legal insanity generally means that the Defendant was, at the time of the crime, unable to appreciate the nature of his acts and unable to understand that they were wrong. Colorado’s unique law means that the prosecutor will have to prove that Holmes failed to meet this test beyond a reasonable doubt. That is not an easy task.