The jurors in the trial of James Holmes, found guilty in the shooting rampage at an Aurora, Colo., theater that killed 12 moviegoers and injured 40 others, have decided that there were “aggravating circumstances” to warrant consideration of the death penalty.
Jurors delivered their verdict on Thursday, as the case moves to the next phase. They will now hear from Holmes’ legal team as they argue that he should be sentenced to life without parole, and are expected to present witnesses to testify on Holmes’ behalf. They have argued that Holmes suffered from a severe mental illness at the time of the shooting in July 2012, when he opened fire during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The proceedings could take weeks, with families of victims offering testimony on how the tragedy affected them.
The trial of Holmes entered the sentencing phase on Wednesday, after the jury last week found him guilty on 165 counts, including 24 counts of first-degree murder, or two counts for each victim.
Prosecutors had to show that “aggravating factors” warranted the death penalty, and cleared that hurdle with the jury’s most recent verdict. Jurors found four of five aggravating factors were present.
Colorado has executed only one person since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s, but defense attorney Barry Slotnick, perhaps best known for his successful defense of Bernhard Goetz, said that “we are in a different time” when it comes to such shooting rampage, which he said are acts of terror.
He pointed to the recent death penalty sentence given to Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“I think what we are looking at is the times we are in,” Slotnick said. “We now have a set of new issues of looking at how do we avoid terrorist acts from occurring.”
The problem for the defense, he said, is that the jury already has rejected their argument that Holmes was insane.
“If one were to assume consistency, you have a jury in this case who has voted for the extreme conviction of guilt on every count,” he said.