CENTENNIAL, Colorado — Jurors have reached a decision on whether James Holmes will get the death penalty or life in prison for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others at a Colorado movie theater, court officials announced Friday.
The decision comes one day after 12 Colorado jurors began deliberating on his fate Thursday afternoon.
District Attorney George Brauchler has throughout the trial focused on the horrific nature of the crimes, adding that death is the only real justice Holmes could face.
"Through this door is horror," he said on Thursday before an image of the bloodstained sidewalk outside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, echoing how he began his arguments in April.
In the months since, jurors have heard from 306 witnesses on what happened inside Theater 9 on July 20, 2012, Holmes' life, and his mental health. In finding him guilty, the jury determined he knew right from wrong at the time of the shooting and could be held responsible.
On Thursday, however, defense attorney Tamara Brady urged jurors not to ignore Holmes' severe mental illness.
"It is easier to ask you to kill a monster than to kill a sick human being," she said.
All of the mental health professionals who testified have agreed that Holmes suffers from severe mental illness. His defense attorneys have argued that he is schizophrenic and the psychosis brought on by the disease is the only reason the mass shooting took place.
"This tragedy was born of disease, not of choice," Brady said. "We do not execute people for getting sick."
Holmes sat expressionless during the impassioned arguments from both attorneys, at times slightly swiveling in his chair. Two rows behind him, his parents took the seats they have occupied for months.
The jury has twice before deliberated in the sentencing phase of the trial. They determined that the nature of Holmes’ crimes make him eligible for death and that any mitigating factors — such as his family life and mental health — do not alone outweigh the seriousness of the crimes.
This week, they heard the impact of his crimes on the surviving family members of the 12 victims. Fathers, mothers, and daughters broke down as they described their lost loved ones and the pain of the last three years. Several jurors joined them in their tears.
For much of the trial, the number of victims and family members who have wished to attend has outnumbered the available seats in the courtroom. Over the months of proceedings, they have become a family of their own, offering hugs and pats on the back after particularly trying testimony. They've also shared their grief as 911 calls, photos, and other reminders of the worst day of their lives have replayed.
The murder of one person warrants a life sentence, Brauchler said. But Holmes' crimes — and the numbers of those killed and injured — are different, he continued.
"They did not pick him," Brauchler said. "He picked them. He picked the time, place, and manner of their deaths. Does he get a life sentence for that?"
Brauchler continued that nothing could bring back the dead or undo the pain and loss felt by their families. Many of them sat in the courtroom, crying as Brauchler showed photos of their loved ones. A number of them filed out as arguments from Holmes' defense began.
"You can bring justice to this act, and to him. For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death," Brauchler said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "It's death."
Before the jury began deliberations, Judge Carlos Samour reminded them that a death sentence must be based on their "individual, reasoned moral judgement." Only if their individual conclusions unanimously point to death will Holmes receive the death penalty.
"The law never requires a death sentence," Samour reminded, adding that jurors also do not need to give a reason for their ultimate decision.
As Brady called for mercy from the jury, she asked them to use their moral judgment without thought of vengeance, hate, violence, or anger.
"This may be the most important decision you make in your life," she said, "and it needs to be one you can live with."
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
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