James Holmes deserves the death sentence if he's convicted in
the July shooting deaths of 12 suburban moviegoers, an Arapahoe County
prosecutor said Monday.
"In this case, for James Egan Holmes, justice is death," District Attorney George Brauchler said at a court hearing, formally rejecting a defense bid that Holmes plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole.
Holmes showed no visible reaction. His parents clasped hands and embraced. The 25-year-old University of Colorado grad school dropout also faces charges related to 70 people wounded by gunfire or injured while fleeing the Aurora theater.
Brauchler's decision to seek the death penalty pushes Holmes' trial from this August to February 2014, because presiding Judge William Sylvester expects a prolonged series of motions and hearings now that the case involves a possible death sentence. Sylvester, who entered a not guilty plea on Holmes' behalf last month, said he lacked the time to oversee a death penalty case and turned the case over to Judge Carlos Samour.
Holmes' court-appointed attorneys said in a filing last week that a guilty plea offer could have ended prolonged legal maneuvering.
Without such a deal, public defenders Daniel King and Tamara Brady have indicated that an insanity defense is almost certain. They've said at prior hearings that Holmes, who dropped out of a University of Colorado neuroscience doctoral program in May, suffers from mental illness and was under psychiatric care before he dropped out.
Several times during the hearing, someone in the victims' seating area gasped when defense attorneys pushed for delays and longer deadlines. Brady rejected prosecution claims that she and King were stalling. "They are trying to execute our client. We will do whatever we can to protect his life," Brady said.
An insanity defense may be Holmes' only legal recourse. At a January preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented overwhelming evidence that showed Holmes methodically planned the attack at Aurora's Century 16 theater, buying an assault rifle, shotgun, two handguns, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, bomb-making material and other gear. Photos from his cellphone showed he had staked out the rear of the theater and exit doors before the shootings. Aurora police arrested Holmes in the rear parking lot.
Victims, relatives of the deceased and friends packed the courtroom and an overflow room where the proceedings could be watched on TV.
"I had a huge adrenaline rush," said Bryan Beard, whose best friend, Alex Sullivan, was killed. "I love the choice, I love it, I love it. ... I hope I'm in the room when he dies."
Sylvester noted that it could take years for a final resolution, a prospect that disturbed some victims.
"It could be 10 or 15 years before he's executed," said Pierce O'Farrill, shot three times in the attack. "I'm planning to have a family, and the thought of having to look back and reliving everything at that point in my life, it would be difficult."
Another shooting victim, Marcus Weaver, said that while he opposes the death penalty, he would like to see the case resolved.
"If (Holmes would) just plead guilty, we could all move forward," he said. "That's all it's all about at this point. Man up. Save us all the difficulty. Accept your fate. If you're guilty, you're guilty."
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