CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting trial got one last chance Tuesday to convince jurors that gunman James Holmes was either a cold, calculating killer or a man so overcome by psychosis that he could no longer tell right from wrong.
Closing arguments in the first phase of Holmes’ death penalty trial began Tuesday afternoon, nearly three years to the day since he slipped into a darkened midnight movie premiere and opened fire, killing 12 and wounding 70 others.
The arguments had been scheduled to start earlier in the day but were delayed after the defense said some of the slides prosecutors planned to show jurors were improper. District Attorney George Brauchler defended the images.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ordered Brauchler to change or delete some of the slides, saying they misstated the evidence or made overbroad allegations. The judge allowed Brauchler to keep other slides, including one that referred to Holmes wearing a “kill suit” during the shootings.
Dozens of victims and family members were in the courtroom, and some wept as Samour read the names of the dead and wounded while he gave the jury his instructions. Sandy Phillips wore a green scarf that belonged to her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, who was killed.
Holmes’ parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, sat on the opposite side of the courtroom from the victims. Seated with them was Bob Autobee, who spoke out against the death penalty when his son, a prison guard, was killed by an inmate. Autobee shook Robert Holmes’ hand and hugged Arlene Holmes.
James Holmes, now 27, does not dispute that he was the lone gunman. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, setting the stage for the death penalty trial that included more than 250 witnesses, many of them wounded survivors of the attack on July 20, 2012.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have two hours each to make their cases. They will try to help jurors make sense of thousands of pieces of evidence and nearly three months’ worth of testimony. With that information, it will be up to the jury to decide whether prosecutors met their burden of proving Holmes was legally sane.
Prosecutors will paint Holmes as a meticulous killer who knew exactly what he was doing when he methodically planned his assault on the theater to assuage his failures in graduate school and romance.
They will focus on the testimony of two state-appointed forensic psychiatrists who evaluated Holmes months and years after the shooting and determined that, despite severe mental illness, he was capable of knowing right from wrong and therefore legally sane under Colorado law. One of the doctors, William Reid, showed jurors nearly 22 hours of sometimes chilling videotaped interviews in which Holmes haltingly describes taking aim at fleeing moviegoers and longing to kill others to increase his own self-worth.
Holmes spent months amassing an arsenal of weapons and body armor. He scrawled detailed plans for the massacre in a spiral notebook, weighing which auditoriums in the Aurora theater complex would allow for maximum carnage.
Prosecutors will point to the elaborate ways in which Holmes rigged his 800-square-foot apartment into a potentially lethal booby trap that he hoped would divert police and paramedics from the theater as he set about his attack. Holmes hid his plans from everyone, including a university psychiatrist to whom he mailed his notebook just before the attack.
And prosecutors will not let jurors forget the human toll of the shooting. They called more than 70 survivors who described the terrifying sight of the black-clad gunman, the searing pain of bullet wounds and the anguish of leaving loved ones behind in the panic to escape.
Defense attorneys will present Holmes as a struggling neuroscience student who was on the brink of mental collapse well before he acted on increasingly powerful delusions that told him to kill. They called to the stand mental health professionals who analyzed Holmes and found him suffering an array of illnesses, from schizophrenia to full-blown psychosis.
Their strongest witness was Raquel Gur, a nationally known schizophrenia expert who interviewed Holmes for 28 hours and said his thoughts about killing other people became an uncontrollable storm in his mind in the months before the shooting. She and another psychiatrist declared him legally insane. The shooting would not have happened if not for Holmes’ psychosis, Gur said.
The doctors said Holmes had struggled with mental illness since childhood, seeking a career in neuroscience to better understand what he described in his notebook as his “broken mind” and a list of self-diagnoses.