A jury has returned a verdict finding Aurora theater shooter James Holmes is eligible for the death penalty during the second phase of his sentencing trial.
Jurors in Colorado must deliberate three times before sentencing a convicted killer to death. The verdicts in all three phases must be unanimous. The decision now sends the trial to its third phase, where a final decision will be made as to whether Holmes, 27, is sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The jury, made up of nine women and three men, deliberated for just three hours. Holmes was found guilty last month of 165 counts against him, including 24 counts of first-degree murder. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 others during his July 2012 attack on the theater.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jurors Previously Decided the Killings Were Heinous Enough for the Death Penalty
The jury concluded the first phase of the sentencing trial on July 23, deciding that the killings were heinous enough for the death penalty, according to the Denver Post.
No witnesses were presented during that phase in the trial, and both sides expected the decision to be made that the killings were heinous enough, the Post reported.
2. Defense Attorneys Argued That Holmes’ Mental Illness Should Spare His Life
During the second phase of the sentencing trial, the defense attorney argued that jurors should spare Holmes’ life because of mitigating factors, including his mental illness. Jurors heard testimony from Holmes’ parents, friends, former teachers and a court-appointed psychiatrist.
“Had he not been inflicted with a disease that attacked his brain, he never would have dyed his hair orange, never would have purchased all of those guns and all of that ammunition and this heartbreaking tragedy would never have occurred,” public defender Tamara Brady argued, according to ABC 7 News.
Holmes parents testified that they didn’t see his violent attack coming.
“I didn’t realize that his loudest cry for help was his silence,” Arlene Holmes told jurors.
“He seemed… he was clearly really messed up. His eyes were bulging out,” Robert Holmes said about visiting his son after he was arrested. “His pupils were dilated. He was able to talk to us, which was good. He told us he loved us, which was good. But I could see there was something really wrong with him.”
3. Family Members of the Victims Will Testify During the Sentencing’s Third Phase
The third phase of the death penalty trial will include testimony from family members of the 12 victims Holmes killed.
Holmes was found guilty of killing Jonathan Blunk, 26; Alexander Boik, 18; Jesse Childress, 29; Gordon Cowden, 51; Jessica Ghawi, 24; John Larimer, 27; Matt McQuinn, 27; Micayla Medek, 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6; Alex Sullivan, 27; Alexander Teves, 24; and Rebecca Wingo, 31.
4. The Trial Has Been Underway Since January
The trial began in January with jury selection. Opening arguments started in April and the jury made its guilty decision in July.
It is one of the longest in the history of Colorado.
5. Holmes Would Be the First Person Sentenced to Death in Colorado in More Than 5 Years
Holmes would be the first person sentenced to death in Colorado since Robert Ray, who was given the death penalty in 2009 for the 2005 killing of witnesses in his murder trial. Ray is joined on death row by his accomplice in that case, Sir Mario Owens, who was sentenced to death seven years ago, and Nathan Dunlop, who has been on death row for more than 19 years for killing four people while robbing a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
The last person executed in Colorado was Gary Lee Davis in 1997.