Aurora, Colo., Theater Shooter Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder

Jul 16, 2015
Originally published on July 16, 2015 8:34 pm
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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Colorado, a jury has returned its verdict on James Holmes, the man on trial for killing 12 people and wounding more than 70 others in a movie theater three years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We the jury find the defendant, James Eagan Holmes, guilty of murder in the first degree after deliberation.

CORNISH: It's clear the jury rejected the defendant's insanity defense. For more on the verdict, Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee joins us from Denver. And Megan, the jury found Holmes guilty of two counts, actually, of first-degree murder for each of the people killed in the attack and for attempted murder for those injured. What happens next?

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Next the trial moves to the penalty phase. Jurors will have to decide whether Holmes should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. And I've heard this stage described as a mini trial of its own. Both sides will call witnesses and on the prosecution side, they'll be trying to convince jurors the crime was so heinous that it deserves death. On the defense side, they'll be arguing that because Holmes is mentally ill, he should not be held fully culpable.

CORNISH: So once again, this all gets back to his mental state.

VERLEE: Yes. And that's one thing that legal experts were saying, even from the start of this trial, that the entire defense case has, in a way, been building up to this. They did, of course, hope to convince the jury that Holmes was not guilty by reason of insanity. But failing that, all the evidence they presented about his mental state so far and any evidence they put on now - it's all aimed at getting jurors to think, well, even if he's guilty, he's still a really mentally ill person, and should someone in that condition face the ultimate penalty for this crime?

CORNISH: How soon will the sentencing phase start?

VERLEE: It was scheduled to begin next week, which coincidentally, actually, is the third anniversary of the attack itself. But the final stages of the trial took a bit longer than expected, so I don't know if that's been pushed back. I don't think we've heard yet.

CORNISH: So the jury found Holmes guilty. It appears that they agreed with the image of him presented by prosecutors. Remind us of what that argument was.

VERLEE: Well, prosecutors really emphasized the planning that went into this attack, that Holmes spent months gathering weapons and building bombs in his apartment. And for that narrative, they relied very heavily on a notebook that he sent to his psychiatrist the day before the shooting. In that notebook, he debated how to cause the most carnage, and he recorded a lot of his thought process in selecting this theater in particular to carry out his plans. So they put on a lot about the preparations, and the prosecutors also emphasized the length Holmes went to to hide the preparations. For instance, he bought the guns and the equipment using a credit card that his parents could not see the bill for.

And all of that, prosecutors argued, showed that Holmes was thinking and functioning rationally and that he knew the difference between right and wrong. And those were the two things that prosecutors really had to prove to overcome reasonable doubt with the insanity defense. And apparently that was very convincing for jurors. It only took them a day and a half for them to return these guilty verdicts.

CORNISH: That's Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio. She joined us from Denver. Megan, thank you.

VERLEE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And again, to recap the news that the Aurora Colorado theater shooting James Holmes has - shooter James Holmes has been found guilty on all counts of first-degree murder and was also found guilty of attempted murder for those he injured in the shooting three years ago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.