CENTENNIAL (Web Desk) – A jury in the US state of Colorado has spared gunman James Holmes the death penalty for killing 12 people at a screening of a Batman film in 2012.
The 27-year-old entered a midnight showing of a Batman movie wearing a gas mask, helmet and body armor and shot dead a dozen people.
Last month, the panel of nine women and three men found the former neuroscience graduate student guilty on all counts related to the July 2012 massacre. They were not unanimous, however, on the death penalty, which means he will serve life in jail without the possibility of parole.
The defence team had argued that the former neuroscience graduate student, now 27, was insane at the time.
The jury agreed with prosecutors that Holmes, though mentally ill, was responsible for his actions. But it was not unanimous on the death penalty.
That lack of agreement meant the jury accepted he would receive an automatic life sentence without parole.
The decision of the jury – a panel of nine women and three men – was revealed by Judge Carlos Samour in a courtroom in the city of Centennial on Friday.
On each count, he read, the panel had been unable to agree that Holmes should be executed by lethal injection, and that they understood that as a result, the court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment.
Holmes showed no reaction, staring straight ahead, hands in pockets.
The verdict brings to an end a long-delayed, lengthy, and high-profile trial just a little more than three years after Holmes’ rampage in a suburban Denver multiplex put a spotlight on gun control, mental illness and security in public spaces.
The jury already convicted him on all charges from the July 20, 2012 mass shooting at the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora. Seventy people were also wounded in the attack.
Prosecutors say Holmes aimed to slaughter all 400 theater goers. But he failed to kill more, they said, in part because a drum magazine he had bought to boost his firepower jammed.
The proceedings against Holmes began in late April and reached penalty phase closing arguments on Thursday after 60 days of trial, 306 witnesses, and the introduction of nearly 2,700 pieces of evidence.
In his speech to the jury, District Attorney George Brauchler said justice for Holmes meant execution for the “horror and evil” he wrought inside the crowded cinema.
During the trial, dozens of wounded survivors testified about how they had tried to hide from the gunman’s hail of bullets, some of them steel-penetrating rounds, or stumbled over the bodies of loved ones as they tried to flee.
Defense lawyer Tamara Brady had stressed that Holmes had no previous criminal record. She had asked jurors whether they were ready to sign the death warrant of a mentally ill person and said they would have to live with the decision for the rest of their lives.
While the jury rejected Holmes’ plea of insanity, Brady said all the doctors the panel had heard from in court had agreed that he was seriously mentally ill.
The defense said he suffers schizophrenia, and that his “aloof or distracted” demeanor was caused by anti-psychosis drugs that treat, but do not cure, the disease.
As the verdict was read out, Holmes’ mother Arlene leaned her head against her husband’s shoulder and began sobbing, the BBC reported.
Ashley Moser, whose six-year-old daughter died in the attack and who was herself paralysed, shook her head and then slowly leaned it against the wheelchair of another paralysed victim.
District Attorney George Brauchler said: “I still think death is justice for what that guy did, but the system said otherwise. I honour that, and I’ll respect that outcome.”
During his three-month trial, Holmes declined to testify in his own defence or to make a statement expressing his remorse.
The sentence is expected to be imposed formally at a later hearing.
James Holmes was considered a quiet young man before the attack. He had been studying for a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Denver, although he was about to quit.
“He basically was socially awkward, but not to the degree that would warrant suspicion of mass murder or any atrocity of this magnitude,” said Billy Kromka, a research assistant at a lab where he spent several months.
On 20 July 2012, Holmes slipped into a midnight screening of Batman film The Dark Knight Rises armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and a pistol. He threw smoke canisters and shot at people trying to escape.