Colorado Theater Shooter to Learn Fate 3 Years After Massacre

Victims and their relatives watch James Holmes' court proceedings.
Victims and their relatives watch James Holmes’ court proceedings.

Twelve people who’d gone to a Colorado movie theater for an evening’s entertainment never came home. Seventy who’d wanted to see “The Dark Knight Rises” found themselves wounded in an all-too-real barrage of gunfire. And one man, James Holmes, was responsible for it all.

There’s no question that Holmes walked into the crowded Aurora theater and unleashed a torrent of bullets on unsuspecting moviegoers on July 20, 2012.

What is in question is if he’ll be found guilty of the bloodshed and, if so, what penalty he’ll face.

Jurors began deliberating his fate Wednesday, one day after attorneys from both sides offered their closing arguments.

There’s no clear timetable on when a decision will be reached on Holmes and the 165 charges he faces. But when it comes, it will close a chapter in what has been a long, grueling journey — more than 11 weeks of trial, about six months after the start of jury selection, and some three years after the nightmare began for families in and around the suburban Denver community.

By virtue of his pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, the now 27-year-old Holmes has never denied he was behind the killing.

But given his mental state, his lawyers contend that he should not be found culpable.

“The evidence is clear that he could not control his thoughts, … he could not control his actions, and he could not control his perceptions,” defense attorney Dan King said during closing arguments. “… Only the mental illness caused this to happen and nothing else.”

Yet prosecutors — who called more than 200 witnesses to the stand, among them investigators, students who knew Holmes and his ex-girlfriend — insisted the shooter knew very well what he was doing. He acted deliberately, if diabolically, to deliver pain and his mental issues shouldn’t excuse him from paying the price, they argued.

“Look at the evidence, then hold this man accountable,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said. “Reject this claim that he didn’t know right from wrong when he murdered those people and tried to kill the others…

“That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt, and he needs to be held accountable for what he did.”

‘Like a deer in the headlights’

Having bought a ticket 12 days earlier, Holmes walked into the theater #9 screening of “The Dark Night Rises” like other patrons. He then walked out through a rear door, which he left propped open.

Just after midnight, some 18 minutes after the movie began, he — with his bright red-orange hair looking like the Joker, the Batman villain, as portrayed by late actor Heath Ledger in an earlier movie — returned wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, black gloves and protective gear for his legs, throat and groin.

A tear gas canister exploded in the theater, then gunfire erupted from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40 caliber handgun. The real-life horror story ended with Holmes’ arrest outside the theater about seven minutes after the first 911 calls were made to police.

But it wasn’t in time to save the lives of Jonathan Blunk, Alexander Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Thomas Larimer, Matthew McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Alex Sullivan, Alexander Teves, Rebecca Ann Wingo and the youngest victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

During the trial, prosecutors detailed the nightmare, describing the scores of spent shells, pellets and casings, as well as the accompanying bullet holes. They played a graphic 45-minute video showing bloodied bodies scrawled across the floor and aisles, some contorted and others in fetal positions. They noted more than 200 live rounds were never fired, though it’s hard for anyone to fathom it could have been worse.

“I was like a deer in the headlights. I froze. I wasn’t able to process what was going on,” Kimberly Avra testified of her reaction before a friend pulled her to the ground. “So I sat there and stared at it (the shooter).”

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SOURCE: Greg Botelho and Ana Cabrera

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