The people of Aurora, Colorado had a monster on their hands. It was one of their own. James Dillon Holmes chose to take the law into his own hands on July 20, 2012, killing nine citizens and wounding over 70 that wanted nothing more than to watch a movie before the weekend started.

Holmes walked into the theater No. 9 screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” like other patrons. He then walked out through a rear door, which he left propped open. Just after midnight, some 18 minutes after the movie “The Dark Knight” began, he returned wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, black gloves and protective gear for his legs, throat and groin.

A tear gas canister exploded in the theater, then gunfire erupted from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40 caliber handgun. The shooting stopped with Holmes’ arrest outside the theater about seven minutes after the first 911 calls were made to police. Police had another problem on their hands. In his apartment, there were several explosive devices that were set as booby traps if law enforcement tried to enter. Thankfully, the apartment complex was evacuated and the explosives were taken out of commisson.

It took almost four years to bring the monster to trial but the townspeople got what they wanted and deserved. Nine people had died at his hands and their families and friends seeked justice. In a trial that took all of May, June and July, jurors with ties to Columbine listened to both sides present their case.

“The evidence is clear that he could not control his thoughts, … he could not control his actions and he could not control his perceptions,” defense attorney Dan King said during closing arguments. They admitted that his actions were wrong but begged the jury to spare his client’s life.

Prosecutors — who called more than 200 witnesses to the stand, among them investigators, students who knew Holmes and his ex-girlfriend — insisted the shooter knew well what he was doing. He acted deliberately to deliver pain and his mental issues shouldn’t excuse him from paying the price, they argued.

“Look at the evidence, then hold this man accountable,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said in his closing argument. “Reject this claim that he didn’t know right from wrong when he murdered those people and tried to kill the others. … That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt and he needs to be held accountable for what he did.”

Jurors reached a verdict Thursday and reached in almost 12½ hours with the jury starting deliberations Wednesday morning. In the end, it was justice that won that Thursday afternoon in Aurora, 15 miles outside Denver. 165 charges.

165 guilty verdicts. It was as if they had hit a homer with the bases loaded, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the home team trailing.

In 2013, the prosecution signaled it would seek the death penalty. They may very well get that wish.

The shooter’s parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, were regulars in court during their son’s trial and while they did not speak to the media, they have written two open letters and published a prayer book that detailed the family’s struggle, while pleading for his life to be spared. In one of those letters that appeared in the Denver Post in December 2014, the couple wrote “We have spent every moment for more than two years thinking about those who were injured, and the families and friends of the deceased who were killed, in the theater shooting in Aurora. “We are always praying for everyone in Aurora. We wish that July 20, 2012, never happened.” While they don’t deny that their son had a hand in the murders, they also said they didn’t think he should have been put on trial or even convicted and possibly dying in prison, given his mental state.

“James (Holmes) is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,” his parents wrote. “We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.” Had he not been found guilty by reason of insanity (or mental defect, as it is called in most states), he would have been sentenced to the state hospital in Pueblo until doctors deem him safe to leave. With the guilty verdicts, the trial will enter a sentencing phase in which the jury must decide between life in prison or the death penalty.
According to Dr. Max Watchtel, Psychologist for KUSA-TV, there will be relief and anger.

Relief. Relief that the jury rejected the defense’s claim that the shooter was insane.

On Wednesday, the jury will begin hearing arguments from the prosecution and defense on the sentence they should impose—their options are life in prison without parole and the death penalty.

Jurors will hear the prosecutors point out how heinous and deplorable the shooter’s actions were on the night of July 20, 2012 and how he deserves death.

From defense attorneys, jurors will hear a very different story. They will hear tales of a normal childhood, friends in college and awards won. They will hear about the mental illness that gripped the shooter and how his life should be spared because of that uncontrollable illness.

And then, jurors will hear from the victims. This is where the anger may come into play.

They have already heard stories from victims about their experiences in the theater and the wounds they sustained. But in the trial phase, those stories were limited for a number of legal reasons.

During the sentencing phase, victims will be allowed to talk about the impact the shooting has had on their lives over the last three years: the nightmares, the multiple surgeries, the broken relationships, the isolation. No punches will be pulled. Emotions will be as raw as a carrot pulled from the Earth. Tears will be shed and those that lost loved ones could direct that anger toward Holmes. To quote the Episcopalians, “no secrets will be hid.”

Dr. Wachtel said that for the jurors who have already heard months of emotional testimony, the next several weeks will be grueling. Many jurors who go through a capital-murder trial develop mental illnesses of their own, with depression and anxiety being the most common. They will be forced to listen to horrifying stories and they will be begged to have mercy for the man who caused that horror.

Despite the sentence they decide upon, the juror’s lives will be forever changed by their experience and they can add themselves to the list of victims of the Aurora theater shooting.

Jonathan Blunk, Alexander Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Thomas Larimer, Matthew McQuinn, Alex Sullivan, Alexander Teves, Rebecca Ann Wingo, Medek and the youngest victim, Moser-Sullivan. They will never come back to us, short of the ressurection. They are no longer with us on this Earth and thusly, cannot speak to us. The 12 jurors that heard evidence and did not buy the defense’s notion of insanity spoke for them. They spoke loudly. They spoke clearly. They spoke 165 times in a voice that was strong and clarion.

James Holmes acted as though we as judge and jury. On that night July night in a theatre in Aurora, he acted as executioner. The people of Arapahoe County saw it differently. 165 charges. 165 verdicts. The jury batted 1.000 and you can’t get any better than that.

This week, Holmes will learn his sentence as the jury will decide if he dies a natural death and leave things in God’s hands or they bypass the Almighty and put a needle in his arm. Even with the death penalty on the table and assuming that all 12 jurors agree that he should die by lethal injection, it will be years if not decades before the executioner gets his (or her) hands on him. We can be certain of one thing and that James Holmes will never draw breath as a free man.

James Holmes tried to change his looks during the trial. James Holmes tried to fake insanity. James Holmes failed and failed miserably. 165 counts. 165 guilty verdicts. Major EPIC fail. James Holmes will return to the same courtroom that convicted him and will learn if he draws his last breath behind bars or the executioner get his (or her) hands on him.

The people of Aurora and Arapaho County spoke loudly and clearly. They not only spoke for the nine victims that could not, they spoke for the community and the 70 that were wounded. They will get a chance to speak again this week with the penalty phase. James Holmes could have listened to his better angels that night in July. He chose to ignore them completely. He knew right from wrong and his actions took nine lives and cost him his freedom and could very well cost him his life.

The people of Aurora, Colorado had a monster on their hands and like in those old movies, they raised their torches and pitchforks and dealt with the monster. The monster known as James Holmes will never know freedom, let alone touch it. A jury of his peers said that he is accountable and will draw his final breath on this Earth behind bars. The bigger question is will he die at God’s hands or will the state of Colorado kill him.

Who will win that race?

It’s anyone’s guess.

The jurors and the charges

The twelve people who deliberated the case included nine women and three men with two having close ties to the 1999 Columbine shooting.

Juror 640: A white woman whose daughter is in the Army and whose son is in the Marines. She doesn’t watch the news, and is a union plumber.

Juror 17: White woman in her 40s or 50s who works as a lawyer and is a caregiver for her elderly parents.

Juror 329: White woman in her 20s who is a volunteer victims’ advocate in Aurora.

Juror 535: Middle-age white woman whose ex-husband works as a police officer. Her niece was in the cafeteria at Columbine High School the day of the shooting.

Juror 87: Middle-age white woman who says her son is a drug addict and who has struggled with depression in the past.

Juror 118: White woman and physicist with degrees in psychology and mathematics. Competitive shooter.

Juror 378: White woman in her 50s who worked as a paramedic transporting mentally ill patients.

Juror 155: Middle-age white man in his 50s who was living in California when the shooting happened. He said he doesn’t know much about the case.

Juror 527: White man in his 30s who works as a store manager at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Juror 737: White man in his 20s or 30s who was in Columbine High School during the shooting. He says the perpetrators were his good friends until eighth grade and that he went to prom with one of the victims. He wound up being the foreperson in the trial.

Juror 557: A middle-age white woman in her 30s or 40s. She says mental illness isn’t an excuse for committing a terrible crime.

Juror 311: A middle-age white woman who wanted to hear from Holmes’ parents.

The Charges

Counts 1 – 12
First-degree murder – after deliberation

•The full formal charge, which was read aloud in court is: “On or about 7/20/2012, James Eagan Holmes unlawfully, feloniously, after intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, caused the death of [VICTIM]; in violation of section 18-3-102(1)(a), C.R.S.”
•This is the first of two theories of murder being charged. It means he planned to kill the victim, then he did.

Counts 13 – 24
First-degree murder – extreme indifference

•This is the second of two theories of murder being charged. In layman’s terms, it means he maliciously did something that could kill a person, and then he killed a person.
•The full formal charge, which was read aloud in court is: “On or about 7/20/2012, James Eagan Holmes unlawfully and feloniously, under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally, knowingly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to persons other than himself, and thereby caused the death of [VICTIM]; in violation of section 18-3-102(1)(d), C.R.S.”

Counts 25 – 94
Attempted first-degree murder – after deliberation
•Similar to the murder charges, one of two theories. This one similar to counts 1-12.
•One charge for each of the 70 injured victims.

Counts 95 – 164

•Similar to the murder charges, one of two theories. This one similar to counts 13-24.
•One charge for each of the 70 injured victims.

Count 165
Possession of an explosive or incendiary device
•This charge stems from Holmes booby-trapping his apartment with an elaborate setup of explosive material.

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