Today, on the third anniversary of the Colorado Theater shooting, families of the 12 who died and the 70 who were injured, can take some comfort in knowing that regardless of what the next phase brings, James Holmes will never be free. He’ll either be sentenced to life without parole or death.
It took three years of motions, hearings, and evaluations then months of jury selection and trial for the victims and families to hear “Guilty” 165 times. The verdicts in this first phase of the trial, though critical, didn’t surprise many. The speed with which the jurors reached unanimous decisions, dispensing with the defense of insanity, may have surprised some.
Today, and perhaps for part of tomorrow, attorneys will be in court, discussing the witnesses and evidence to be presented in the remaining weeks of the trial. The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of one or more statutory aggravators which include intentionally killing a child under 12 years of age and killing two or more people in the commission of the same crime. As they did in Arizona at the Arias trial, jurors will determine first if one or more aggravators were proven. If not, Holmes will be sentenced to life without parole. If yes, then the defense will present mitigating evidence. The jury will then decide if the mitigating evidence outweighs the aggravators. If yes, then Holmes will be sentenced to life without parole. If not, then the jury will render yet another decision. They will decide if the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that death is the appropriate sentence.
Although jurors rejected the insanity defense, Holmes’s mental illness can still be considered by them as mitigating evidence and in deciding if death is appropriate.
Holmes stands a decent chance of having his life spared. His mental illness may be enough to convince at least one juror that he should not receive a death sentence. If jurors deadlock on life or death, Holmes will be sentenced to life without parole.