back to top

Judge Defends Jury's Decision To Spare Colorado Theater Shooter's Life

The formal sentencing of James Holmes began Monday after a jury earlier this month recommended life in prison for the convicted mass murderer.

Posted on

During emotional final testimony in the formal sentencing of mass shooter James Holmes, Judge Carlos Samour on Monday paused to defend the justice system and the jury's determination to spare the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooter's life.

The judge responded after family members and victims of the 2012 massacre voiced anger and disappointment that Holmes did not receive the death penalty for killing 12 people and attempting to kill 70 others.

Among them was Kathleen Pourciau, the mother of a young woman injured in the shooting, who said the jury's sentence of life in prison without parole did not respect the lives of the victims.

Samour, however, defended the jury's deliberations and ultimate decision.

"You can't say that this means the jury didn't value the lives of the victims as much as they value the life of the defendant," the judge said. "This isn't as simple as Ms. Pourciau made it seem to be. If it was, we wouldn't need a trial."

The judge also bristled at accusations that the trial had been unfair.

"You're always going to have, in an adversarial system, people who are going to disagree with the result," he said. "That's the nature of our system. But you can't then claim there was no justice because it wasn't the outcome that you expected."

The trial brought up complicated issues of mental health, and it was up to the jury to determine the weight of all the evidence they were shown, he added.

Over the last seven months, jurors considered evidence, lawyers' arguments, and testimony from victims before making an impartial decision, Samour said.

"In my humble opinion, it is the best system available," he said. "There is no other system like it."

This week, victims and their family members are for the last time describing the impact of Holmes' crimes on their lives before he is formally sentenced and moved to prison. A jury earlier this month determined he should spend life in prison without parole for the murder of 12 people.

Samour is now hearing final testimony before sentencing Holmes on his other crimes, which include attempted murder.

Amee Gharbi, whose son survived a gunshot to his head, described the fear and anxiety at least 100 parents felt after the shooting. When she finally found her son, unconscious in a hospital bed, the pain grew worse.

"It's a nightmare that's been replayed over and over for three years," she said.

Nicole Goeke was in a neighboring theater on the night of the shooting. She and a friend escaped without physical scars, but she said her life will never be the same.

"On a day-to-day basis, I truly don't feel safe anywhere I go," she said. "I used to have so much faith in humanity, but now I second-guess everyone I meet."

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at claudia.koerner@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.