Victims speak out after Colorado massacre trial ends in life – Reuters


CENTENNIAL, Colo. Over whisky, wine and sandwiches, families of the murder victims of James Holmes reflected on the Colorado movie massacre trial and said about half of them had opposed the prosecution’s decision to seek a death penalty for the 27-year-old.

They gathered on the patio of an Irish pub hours after the stunning verdict on Friday, when the jury said they could not reach a unanimous decision on the appropriate punishment for Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded 70 three years ago at a midnight screening of a Batman film.

That meant the former neuroscience graduate student will serve a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole. The atmosphere among the victims at the bar was upbeat, however. The strongest emotion was relief that it is all over.

Tom Teves, whose son 24-year-old Alex was killed, said about half of the dead victims’ relatives, including him and his wife Caren, opposed the decision to seek execution for the gunman.

But, Teves said, they ultimately supported the move in deference to those who did want the death penalty, and he praised District Attorney George Brauchler and his team.

“I’m as disappointed for them (the prosecutors) as they are today,” Teves said, sipping on a bottled domestic beer.

The gathering was also attended by prosecutor Lisa Teesch-Maguire, the prosecution team’s liaison to the families.

Many of the victims hugged her, and the father of one of those killed by Holmes told her that he was comforted there would not be prolonged appeals of a death sentence.

NOT CONTESTING ANYTHING

The life sentence was a big win for the Colorado public defender’s office, which legal analysts say has long been among the country’s strongest death penalty defense attorneys.

Given that the jury dismissed Holmes’ insanity plea and found him guilty last month on all counts, then quickly determined that aggravating factors in the case outweighed mitigating ones, many in the court had expected them to deliver a death sentence.

Nine jurors were in favor of the death penalty, a member of the panel said later, while two were on the fence and one said early on Friday afternoon that she could not vote for death.

“We respected everyone’s opinion, but it was clear we weren’t going to come to a unanimous decision,” Juror 17 said.

The trial was unusual because, from the start, Holmes’ court-appointed lawyers had said they were not contesting that he was the sole shooter. Only his state of mind at the time should be in question, they said.

If they were not contesting anything, the prosecution countered, Holmes could plead guilty. Otherwise, the state would try the case the way the district attorney’s office saw fit. And so began proceedings which featured 306 witnesses over 60 days, and nearly 2,700 pieces of evidence.

Brauchler said he did not believe Friday’s verdict was a repudiation of capital punishment.

“One strong holdout?┬áThat’s not a resounding rejection of the death penalty,” Brauchler told Reuters.

‘TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE’

The verdict brought to an end a trial that at times threatened to overwhelm jurors and observers with the competing conclusions of multiple psychiatrists, detailed testimony from crime scene technicians, and heart-rending tales from survivors.

Many also found the tearful accounts of Holmes’ mother, Arlene, and younger sister, Chris, similarly difficult to listen to. Both women blamed mental illness for what he did, and sobbed on the witness stand while they said they still loved him.

In a statement through their California attorney, Holmes’ parents said all they could say after the verdict was “that they are deeply sorry this has happened and they are so sorry that the victims and families have suffered such tremendous loss.”

Shown the statement at the Irish pub by a Reuters reporter, one victim, Sandy Phillips, said: “Too little, too late.” Her 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the rampage.

It was not clear where Holmes will serve his life sentence. He could ultimately be transferred out of state.

On Aug. 24 he faces a hearing at which Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour will impose the life sentence handed down by the jury on his 24 first-degree murder counts.

Samour must also decide sentences on the 141 other charges of attempted murder and possession of an explosive device Holmes was found guilty of. During that hearing, expected to last two or three days, victims can also address the court. They will not be allowed to speak to Holmes directly.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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