Aurora Theater Shooter James Holmes Sentenced To Life In Prison
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Convicted theater shooter James Holmes will live out his life in prison without possibility of parole. That's the decision of a jury in Colorado earlier today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: We the jury do not have a unanimous sentencing - final sentencing verdict on this count. And we the jury understand that as a result the court will impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on this count.
BLOCK: Last month, the same jury rejected Holmes' insanity defense. They found him guilty of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others at a midnight movie screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in 2012. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee has been following the jury's deliberations and she joins me now. And, Megan, first, how long did it take the jurors to reach this decision on the question of life in prison or death?
MEGAN VERLEE: Just about six-and-a-half hours over two days - and apparently that was all the time it took for it to become clear that one or more of the jurors would not be willing to sentence Holmes to death. We don't know how the jury ultimately split, but under Colorado law, it has to be a unanimous decision to sentence someone to the death penalty. So if even one juror was unwilling to do that, this default sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole is what's imposed.
BLOCK: And what did the jurors have to consider in making this decision?
VERLEE: This was a unique phase of the trial. Earlier, in deciding guilt or innocence and at several steps of the death penalty phase where jurors had to decide to continue, they were asked to judge on the evidence. But in the final phase of the death penalty, it's very personal. This was an explicitly moral decision given to each juror. They had to decide whether the egregious nature of the crime outweighed the mitigating circumstance, in this case, the fact that doctors agree Holmes is severely schizophrenic. And it would appear that for at least one juror, if not more, Holmes' mental illness was a big enough concern that they were unwilling to go for the death penalty.
BLOCK: And what happens now - now that they've reached this decision?
VERLEE: Well, there still has to be a final formal sentencing hearing. That's going to come on August 24 and apparently takes several days. It's also when the judge will impose the penalties he's decided on from all of the non-capital crimes that Holmes was convicted off. Those are 140 counts of attempted murder and one explosives charge. And this is the thing about death penalty cases; the death penalty is the only part decided by the jury - the only penalty decided by the jury. The rest of the sentencing decision rests in the hands of the judge.
Now, of course, with Holmes spending the rest of his life behind bars, those other penalties are rather academic.
BLOCK: Megan, what are you hearing from family members of victims of this shooting? How are they reacting to this sentence of life in prison?
VERLEE: Well, there were tears in the courtroom as the sentences were being read, both from family members of victims and first responders and from Holmes' parents. For families of victims, this is going to be a disappointing sentence for many of them. There were a lot of family members who said all along that death would be the ultimate justice in this case. But it's not a united voice. Actually, before the verdict was read this afternoon, there was a brother of one victim who tweeted out that he was strongly opposed to the death penalty and very frustrated that the district attorney had pursued it.
BLOCK: OK, Megan, thanks so much.
VERLEE: That's Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio. And again, the news is that the jury in the Aurora theater shooting case has sentenced James Holmes to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.