Closing arguments began Tuesday in the Aurora theater shooting trial, with Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler arguing that evidence falls short of showing that James Holmes was insane at the time of his July 20, 2012, rampage during the opening night screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
But defense attorney Daniel King said that when Holmes “walked into that theater the evidence is clear that he could not control his thoughts. He could not control his actions. He could not control his perceptions.” He said that Holmes “had been consumed by a psychotic process” that began at least since March of that year, and that he had been suffering from that disease for 10 years.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The attack killed 12 people and injured 70 others. Of those 70, 69 gave testimony at the trial, save for a 3-year-old boy who was injured. He has been present throughout the trial, and was seated on Tuesday at the defense table wearing a white button down shirt and khakis, as well as eyeglasses.
In his closing argument, Brauchler said that Holmes tried to conceal his plans for the attack on the theater from friends and family members, showing that he was able to distinguish between right and wrong.
In fact, Brauchler said as Holmes was gathering weapons, tear gas and other equipment to be used in the attack, he concealed his activity and didn’t want to “raise red flags” with those he knew.
“Patience, patience is paramount with this guy,” Brauchler said. “He knows what he is doing is wrong.
“He knows what society thinks about what his conduct is going to be,” Brauchler added, citing a Gmail chat he had with his girlfriend.
He pointed out that Holmes cased the theaters as he was planning his rampage, right down to where the exits were and whether the doors could be locked. He also pointed to his meticulous planning of the attack, like his use of tear gas to create confusion and, during the rampage, the fact that he was “patrolling” around the theater to find more victims.
“His intent is to cause their death,” he said, noting that he bought steel penetrator rounds and a laser scope, among other items.
The jury in the trial, which has lasted almost three months, will have to determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether Holmes was sane.
The defense has argued that Holmes was mentally ill, with two psychiatrists testifying that he was legally insane at the time. Prosecutors, however, argued that their own experts found that he was legally sane.
Even though he may have been mentally ill, Brauchler noted, “you have to have something more” to prove insanity.
Brauchler pointed to evidence that Holmes even took steps to plan his escape, further showing that he knew that authorities would try to apprehend him. “Nothing is left to chance for him,” he said.
When he was arrested outside the theater, it was after his weapon was jammed and, seeing that he was outnumbered by cops, he surrendered. That, Brauchler said, is evidence that he was thinking logically.
He also pointed to the fact that Holmes booby-trapped his apartment with explosives to try to further casualties and create a diversion. He used a mixture of gasoline, oil and toxic substances to help make his apartment blow up.
Holmes “was sane beyond a reasonable doubt and he needs to be held accountable for what he did,” Brauchler said.
Judge Carlos Samour Jr. gave prosecution and defense 2 hours each in their closing arguments, with 25 minutes for a prosecution rebuttal.
Update: King, the defense attorney, accused Brauchler of picking and choosing which evidence to highlight.
“When you sit here for an hour and a half and this guy talks to you as if Mr. Holmes isn’t mentally ill at all, you have to ask yourself, ‘What does the evidence show? Where is the proof that he is not mentally ill?'”
He said that the burden is on the prosecution to prove that Holmes was not insane when he walked into the theater.
King also said that if Holmes was being deceitful, “why in the world would you go see a psychiatrist and tell them you were thinking of killing a lot of people?” A psychiatrist he had been seeing, Dr. Lynne Fenton, testified that in March, 2012, Holmes told her he was having “homicidal thoughts.”
“The first time she identifies him as having a psychotic level of thinking,” King said, and considered prescribing anti-pshychosis medication.
King also said that the jury had go “to where the law is, and make the decisions there, rather than the result of passion or emotion.”
“This is not an act of free will. This is not a conscious choice made by a rational mind.”
He said that all four of the doctors who examined Holmes — for prosecution and defense — diagnosed him with schizophrenia spectrum disorder. He said that the mental illness evidence was “remarkably consistent,” including that Holmes was not faking it.
He chided Brauchler for dismissing evidence of mental illness when he was examined in November, 2012, like speaking jibberish or smearing feces on himself.
“This is a long-standing mental illness that began before the crime and continues to this day,” he said.
He also said that Holmes had an inherited disease from his family. “You can’t blame someone for getting schizophrenia,” he said. Holmes’ aunt also suffers from schizophrenia, and has had delusions.
But he said that prosecutors have tried to “muddle the issues” by asking defense experts questions of whether Holmes could get up on a bed or not.
Holmes’ methodical planning of the attack doesn’t show that he was rational. “He knew the victims would suffer and wouldn’t want to be killed. He also thought he was doing them favor, for some reason. It’s not logical.”
In the months leading up to the shooting, King described Holmes as “disintegrating,” doing such things as coloring his hair red and engaging in hostile and suspicious behavior. He suggested that he was in the throes of a “psychotic breakdown” even if Brauchler said that friends and family members saw him as the “same guy.” King said that Holmes described himself as being on a “mission.”
King also described how Holmes’s psychosis continued after he was arrested, including an incident in which he kept repeating the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“The mental illness is the sole reason that this crime took place,” he said.