CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Jurors in the Colorado movie theater trial received instructions Thursday before their next round of deliberations to decide if there are any reasons to override a potential death penalty and sentence James Holmes to life without parole for 12 murders and 70 attempted murders.
The lengthy instructions were the last step before closing arguments in this phase of his sentencing, which focused on Holmes' childhood, his mental illness, his connections to people who love him and other potentially mitigating factors that would reduce his "moral culpability" and make him worthy of their mercy.
Last week, jurors unanimously agreed that James Holmes' 2012 attack was cruel enough to justify the death penalty. Now, their focus is on whether his life should be spared nevertheless.
If they decide the death penalty is still an option, they would move to a final phase in which they would hear from victims and survivors.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. described the potentially mitigating factors as any facts or circumstances in his personal history, background or mental health that make capital punishment inappropriate, despite the horrific nature of his crimes three years ago.
As examples, the judge said Holmes is asserting a series factors that point to mercy, including his age and emotional state at the time of the crime, his limited capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, his cooperation with authorities, and any other evidence introduced by his defense.
More specifically, he said dozens of factors presented by the defense should be considered, including:
— All experts agree that Holmes suffers from schizophrenia, is not faking the illness that caused the events, and that if he had been healthy, the crimes would not have taken place;
— that "Mr. Holmes was genetically loaded to experience a psychotic disorder," given the extensive history of schizophrenia on his father's side of the family;
— that he was 24 in 2012, the age when schizophrenics most frequently experience the onset of mental illness;
— that he was never arrested before of a crime;
— that he was raised in a loving home, surrounded by caring friends and neighbors;
— that many people who encountered him later in Colorado missed signals that his mind was deteriorating;
— that the drugs he was prescribed before the attack could have increased his mania and other dangerous symptoms.
— that he remains on anti-psychotic and anti-depressive medicine today to treat brain diseases for which there is no cure.
— that Holmes still struggles to explain, even years later, why his "mission" took such irrevocable control over his mind.
— that his mental illness was, and still is, the sole cause of his shooting.
— that committing the attack was not an act he enjoyed or took pleasure in.
— that despite the horrific crime, Holmes has friends and family who continue to love and care about him.
The nine women and three men were to hear closing arguments from the defense and prosecutors later Thursday before beginning deliberations in this much more subjective phase of the trial.
"This is an individual decision and not a group decision," Samour stressed, and each juror must give each aggravating and mitigating factor as much or as little weight as they alone determine. "This decision is not mechanical nor mathematical," he said.
All jurors have to agree that Holmes remains eligible for the death penalty before the trial would advance to a third and final phase.
The last witness Wednesday was Arlene Holmes, who said she had no idea her son had been talking about killing people. She said her son's campus psychiatrist never told her that he had homicidal thoughts when she called in June 2012 and revealed he was quitting therapy and dropping out of school.
"Schizophrenia chose him; he didn't choose it, and I still love my son. I still do," she said through her sobs.