CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Mass shooter James Holmes on Friday was officially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others inside a movie theater three years ago in Aurora, Colorado.
Judge Carlos Samour formally sentenced Holmes to life in prison on Wednesday, with 3,200 additional years for explosive conviction and attempted murder.
The judge had no other option for sentencing on the murder charges after the jury of nine women and three men deliberated for roughly seven hours at the beginning of the month, but could not reach the unanimous decision needed for the death penalty.
As Samour read the original verdict forms aloud, Holmes' parents embraced, his mother visibly shaking. On Wednesday, he defended the integrity of the justice system and assured victims that Holmes would not have an easy life behind bars.
One man in the packed audience stood up amid the rows of victims and stormed out. A woman ran after him. Hands reached across aisles to offer support. As the judge read the name of fatal shooting victim Jesse Childress in going through the counts, an Aurora policewoman burst into tears.
After the final victim's name was read, several left the courtroom, the sound of weeping echoing through the hall outside.
Samour then thanked the jurors for sitting on a trial that lasted for months and that was packed with often emotional testimony.
"You all have put your lives on hold to do this," he said.
During their deliberations, jurors had asked to review some of the most graphic images presented in the case: The 45-minute crime scene video showing blood and bodies, as well as the hurriedly discarded belongings of those who were able to flee.
Throughout the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury had kept the death penalty on the table, but ultimately, it ended on life in prison.
A woman who would only identify herself as Juror 17 told reporters outside the courthouse that life in prison became the default sentence when one juror said they were firmly against the death penalty for Holmes. A couple of jurors were on the fence, she added, but were otherwise leaning toward a death sentence.
"All the defense needed to do was convince one person that death was not the appropriate sentence," said Karen Steinhauser, an attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Denver. "The prosecution had to convince 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that death was the appropriate sentence."
The outcome evoked a range of emotions for those impacted by the mass shooting, including state police.
Kirsten Han, who survived the shooting, said whatever the outcome, the sense of loss would remain.
"We know the families are hurting," she told the local Fox affiliate. "Either way, if he would’ve gotten the death penalty or life in prison, it’s not going to bring back their loved ones."
But speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, the grandfather of slain 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan said he wished Holmes had received the death penalty.
"I've tried to resolve Veronica's death and I can't...the loss, it is the gaping wound that’s not going to go away," Robert Sullivan said. "This just makes it worse."
The trial began in January, with jury summons going out to 9,000 people. Since April, the jury has heard from more than 300 witnesses and reviewed more than 2,000 pieces of evidence.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors had detailed Holmes’ months of planning before the massacre, then told the stories of the victims’ lives, as well as the horror of their final moments.
Holmes’ defense attorneys did not dispute what happened inside Theater 9 on July 20, 2012 — rather, they tried to show Holmes’ descent from a promising young student into psychosis and delusion with the onset of schizophrenia.
“He tried to get help,” defense attorney Tamara Brady told the jury on Thursday. “It was unsuccessful, but he tried to get help. It was his soul screaming for help while his mind was drowning in illness.”
The jury's decision on Friday came after heart-wrenching testimony from surviving family members of the 12 men, women, and child who died, bringing several jurors to tears.
At the post-verdict news conference, District Attorney George Brauchler said he was disappointed that the Holmes did not get the death penalty, but praised jurors nonetheless, saying they "did a hell of a job."
“I thought death, I still think death is justice for what that guy did," Brauchler said. "But the system said otherwise, and I’ll honor that and I’ll respect that outcome.”
Whatever the outcome, Aurora Police Chief Nicholas Metz told reporters that the scars would remain.
"Please don’t ever say there will be closure because there’s not going to be," he said. "They will carry the scars, they will carry the pain — emotionally and physically — for the rest of their lives."
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.
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