Twelve jurors failed to agree on a death sentence for Colorado theater shooter James Holmes on Friday, prompting shocked sobs from victims, police officers and his own mother. The former neuroscience graduate student will instead spend the rest of his life in prison for mass murder.
The nine women and three men said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on each murder count. That automatically eliminates the death penalty for Holmes, who blamed his killings of 12 people on mental illness.
The verdict came as a surprise. The same jury earlier rejected Holmes’ insanity defense, finding him capable of understanding right from wrong when he carried out the 2012 assault that injured 70. Jurors also previously moved closer to the death penalty when they quickly determined the heinousness of Holmes’ crimes outweighed his mental illness.
As the sentence was read, Holmes’ mother, Arlene, who had asked the jury to spare her son’s life, leaned her head against her husband’s shoulder and began sobbing.
Tears broke out across the courtroom. In the back, Aurora police officers who responded to the bloody scene of Holmes’ attacks began crying.
Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed by Holmes, shook her head no and then held it in her hands. Ashley Moser, whose 6-year-old daughter died in the attack and who was herself paralyzed by Holmes’ bullets, also shook her head and then slowly leaned it against the wheelchair of another paralyzed victim, Caleb Medley.
Families of victims began to leave the courtroom as Judge Carlos Samour Jr. continued reading the verdict. Their wails were audible through the closed courtroom doors.
As in previous proceedings, Holmes, who is on anti-psychotic medication that dulls his responses, showed no reaction. His attorneys left court without commenting.
One juror told reporters outside court that there was a single juror who refused to give Holmes the death penalty and two others who were wavering. The key issue was Holmes’ mental illness.
“All the jurors feel so much empathy for the victims. It’s a tragedy,” the juror said, refusing to give her name. “It’s a devastating result no matter what. I am deeply, deeply sorry — that isn’t even the word.”
The attorney for Holmes’ family, Lisa J. Damiani, said in a statement that the family had nothing to say “other than to say that they are deeply sorry this has happened and they are so sorry that the victims and families have suffered such tremendous loss.”
Prosecutors argued Holmes deserved to die because he methodically planned the attack at a midnight screening of a Batman movie, even blasting techno music through earphones so he wouldn’t hear his victims scream.
District Attorney George Brauchler said Friday he was frustrated that Holmes didn’t get the death penalty, but he praised jurors for doing a “hell of a job” throughout the grueling, four-month trial.
He also acknowledged rejecting an offer by Holmes’ attorneys for a plea to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brauchler said he did so because the defense refused to let Holmes be examined by a state psychiatrist and produce the notebook in which he explained the attack. Holmes was eventually subjected to two lengthy psychiatric evaluations and the notebook was entered as evidence.
“Because of that decision,” Brauchler said, “the community now knows everything about this case.”