Aurora Theater Shooting Trial: Father of James Holmes Testifies as Jurors Weigh Death Penalty

Aurora Theater Shooting Verdict
RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images

Robert Holmes, the father of convicted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, took the stand on Tuesday to describe his son as a somewhat introverted high school and college student, who did well academically, but who displayed unusual expressions in the months leading up to his July 20, 2012 shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater.

James Holmes has been convicted in the deaths of 12 people and the attempted murder of 70 others. Jurors are now in the sentencing phase of the trial, as Holmes’ lawyers present testimony from Holmes’ family members and friends in an effort to spare him the death penalty. Last week, the jury found that there were “aggravating factors” in Holmes’ shooting massacre, meaning that they will consider capital punishment.

Much of the day was spent reviewing family photos and videos, showing a relatively normal family life in which James Holmes loved playing soccer and took to playing video games like World of Warcraft.

“He was always, actually, an excellent kid,” Robert Holmes said when asked by a defense attorney to describe his relationship with his son.

The father, who has been present throughout the trial with his wife, Arlene, testified that he was unaware in 2012 was suffering from suicidal and homicidal thoughts, as he had confessed to a therapist before the theater shooting. Robert Holmes said that they were aware that their son was seeing a psychiatrist, and instead were worried that he was depressed after dropping out of graduate school in Denver. But the psychiatrist would not provide them with details.

Robert Holmes said that other family members did suffer from mental illness.

Robert and Arlene Holmes live in San Diego, and recalled noticing something different about his son’s expression when he visited in California for the holidays in 2011. He described it as an “odd facial expression,” or “kind of a grimace or a smirk.” Holmes said that the expression was similar to one from his son’s mug shot, which was shown to the jury.

The defense played 2011 voice mail messages from the father to his son. Robert Holmes said that he was concerned as he hadn’t heard from him in some time.

“We were finding it hard to have phone contact,” Robert Holmes said, adding that his son would sometimes answer email. By the spring of 2012, he said that he was “looking for clues of depression.” To their surprise, when they talked to him on July 4, 2012, just weeks before the shooting rampage, they found that he “was really chatty,” whereas he typically would give short answers.

“It was unusual, but it wasn’t alarming,” he said. “I was looking for clues of depression.”

Arlene Holmes is expected to testify on Wednesday.

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