CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Jurors have begun deliberating whether James Holmes should die by lethal injection or spend life in prison without parole for murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 more in a crowded Colorado movie theater in July 2012. They're making their decision after a 15-week trial in which they saw 2,695 pieces of evidence and heard from 306 witnesses. Relatives of those killed in the massacre were the last to take the stand, offering heartbreaking stories of loss. Here are some things to know as jurors make their final decision about Holmes' fate.
District Attorney George Brauchler focused on the victims of Holmes' violence during closing arguments Thursday, showing photos of each as he urged jurors to give Holmes a death sentence.
"You cannot get justice for them, those who came here to tell you they are part of the living dead," Brauchler said. "But you can bring justice to this act. And to him. And for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death. It's death."
He said Holmes methodically planned the ambush-style attack, hoping to kill all of the more than 400 people who packed the stadium-style theater for a midnight showing of a Batman movie. He stopped at 12 because his assault rifle jammed.
Holmes' attorney, Tamara Brady pleaded for Holmes' life, saying severe mental illness — not free will — drove him to murder. Doctors who examined Holmes after the shooting diagnosed him with a range of disorders, including schizophrenia. She said the once-promising neuroscience graduate student with a trouble-free childhood sought help but was unsuccessful before he suffered a psychotic breakdown that led to the shooting. Holmes didn't choose to get sick but had mental illness in his genes, she said.
"The measure of our soul is in how we treat people who are sick and who are damaged," Brady said, acknowledging that the powerfully emotional testimony of victims' is hard to ignore. "You have the opportunity to be the example of anger without vengeance. ... The deaths of those people cannot be answered by more death."
Death sentences must be unanimous in Colorado, so even one juror's opposition to capital punishment would mean Holmes will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. But any mercy or sympathy for Holmes must be based on the evidence. Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. reminded them that their verdict "may well be the most serious and important decision you ever have to make," and said the decision must reflect their own "individual reasoned moral judgment."
The same jury quickly rejected Holmes' insanity defense, convicting him on July 16 of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and an explosives charge. They deliberated for about an hour Thursday before going home without a verdict.
Victims of the massacre are conflicted about whether Holmes deserves to pay with his life for his crimes. Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi, 24, was killed, said he worries about the decades of appeals that often come with a death sentence because his family wants to put the case behind them.
But Marcus Weaver, who has forgiven Homes and initially did not want to see him executed, has had a change of heart after hearing other survivors' tragic stories and learning the details of Holmes' meticulous plans for the shooting.
"What I did was just prayed about it and left it up to the Lord, and I just moved ahead and let him carry the burden," he said. "And then the burden was on the jury of 12."
As Brady began her closing arguments, about 10 victims and family members left the courtroom without speaking, including Caren Teves, mother of Alex Teves, who was killed. Teves said later the mass exit wasn't planned but people decided individually they didn't want to hear Brady.