The younger sister of James Holmes — convicted in the 2012 shooting massacre at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater — told a jury on Monday that she still loved her brother as she described happy childhood memories.
Defense attorneys showed family photos depicting vacations in Hawaii and Big Bear Lake and visits with extended family, as well as Holmes and his sister as young children. Chris Holmes, 22, described a photo of of her brother, who is five years older than her, hugging her as a toddler.
"It makes me happy," she said. "It makes me sad at the same time."
His sister took the stand as part of the trial's sentencing phase. The same jury has already determined he is eligible for the death penalty, and defense attorneys are now bringing forward former classmates and neighbors, as well as his sister, to argue that Holmes should instead get life in prison.
Their parents were always involved in their lives: helping with homework, attending school concerts, watching them play sports. Family dinner was at 5:30 p.m. each night, Chris Holmes said, and family trips continued even as they grew into teenagers.
"I think they wanted a very strong family unit, and I think it was important to them that they knew what was going on in our lives," she said.
While her brother tended to be introverted, she never doubted that he loved her, she added. He read to her as a baby, and usually let her play with him and his friends as they grew up in Salinas, California. By the time he entered middle school, and the family moved to San Diego, she said they began to grow distant.
"After he went into college, it got better," she said.
Since her brother's arrest, Chris Holmes said she had visited him once in jail with her parents. He seemed happy to see them, she said, but his eyes bulged and he was uncharacteristically uncomfortable.
"It was a lot of one-word answers instead of what would normally be a complete sentence," she said.
She hadn't written her brother while he was behind bars, but she attended two of the court hearings — it was nice to just be in the same room, Chris Holmes said.
"He smiled," she said, emotion in her voice.
"Did you share that smile with him?" defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.