Lawyers battle in court over reasons to spare the life of Colorado theater gunman James Holmes



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In this image made from Colorado Judicial Department video, Arlene Holmes, top right, the mother of James Holmes, third from left, in white shirt, stand for the jury to leave for a break in testimony during the sentencing phase of the Colorado theater shooting trial in Centennial, Colo., on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Once they begin deliberating on the sentence, the Holmes jury will be charged with deciding if Holmes is to be executed, or if any mitigating evidence, such as mental health issues, warrants instead life in prison. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)


FILE - In this July 28, 2015, file image, made from Colorado Judicial Department video, defense attorney Tamara Brady, left, questions Robert Holmes, top right, the father of James Holmes, background left in white shirt, during the sentencing phase of the Colorado theater shooting trial in Centennial, Colo. A fuller portrait of the Colorado movie theater shooter has emerged during Holmes' death penalty trial. Testimony given by Holmes' parents revealed a family laid bare by the tragic consequences of a son's incomprehensible descent from a well–behaved child with a quirky sense of humor into a killer capable of gunning down defenseless strangers. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool, File)


CENTENNIAL, Colorado — Defense lawyers for James Holmes made one more appeal for mercy Thursday, urging jurors to consider mental illness in his sentencing even though they rejected his insanity claim when they convicted him of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 others at a Colorado movie theater.

"It was not about notoriety, it was not about hatred. It was about the delusion," attorney Tamara Brady said.

"The stressors triggered his psychosis, the psychosis caused him to be delusional, and come up with this plan to shoot people in this theater," she said. "No one has said that Mr. Holmes is malingering or faking or exaggerating psychiatric symptoms. He is indisputably mentally ill."

Brady said prosecutors tried to explain the "random and senseless crime" with a theory that Holmes methodically pursued a mission to kill.

"But the mere senselessness of it shows that it was psychotic. There was no political statement or religious statement or statement of any kind about what happened in that theater," she said. "He didn't send anything to the New York Times or The Denver Post. He sent his notebook to his psychiatrist. It had nothing to do with notoriety."

District Attorney George Brauchler countered that Holmes wanted to increase his value by killing others.

"Is mental illness going to be a shield here to protect someone who had the capacity to make decisions?" the prosecutor asked. "Nobody in their right mind could plan the massacre of a theater full of human beings. We should take comfort in that. But not having the right mind does not protect you from the ramifications of your decisions."

A woman interrupted the prosecutor, screaming "he's wrong!" ''mental illness is real" and "don't kill him, it's not his fault!" She started climbing over seats toward the defense table before three deputies pulled her from the courtroom. Brauchler then returned to his argument, and the judge later told jurors to disregard the outburst.

After they left to deliberate, the judge described her as a homeless woman who had behaved herself until then. Prosecutors asked that she be held in contempt. The defense said it would be more humane to hospitalize her as mentally ill. The judge said he would decide later, and wasn't concerned that jurors were influenced.

Now each juror must decide if they see reasons to override a potential death penalty and sentence Holmes to life without parole. They went home after deliberating for less than an hour, and will resume on Friday.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. gave them lengthy instructions, detailing the evidence presented about his childhood, mental illness, connections to people who love him and other potentially mitigating factors that might reduce his "moral culpability" and make him worthy of their mercy.

The nine women and three men unanimously agreed that the 2012 attack was cruel enough to justify the death penalty. If they now decide death remains an option, they will next hear from victims and survivors before deliberating his sentence.

The judge reminded them that they have already determined that "aggravating factors" justify capital punishment, including the fact that he killed multiple people, acted in a cruel or depraved manner and laid in wait for his victims.

Then he enumerated more than 60 possible "mitigating factors," including that all experts agree Holmes suffers from schizophrenia and is not faking the illness, and that the crimes would not have happened if he had been healthy.

"Holmes was genetically loaded to experience a psychotic disorder," given the extensive history of schizophrenia on his father's side of the family, the defense said.

They said his prescription drugs could have increased his mania before the attack, and that he seems stable and non-expressive now only because he's on anti-psychotic medicine to stabilize incurable brain diseases.

Holmes still struggles to explain why his "mission" took such irrevocable control over his mind, they said. Committing the attack was not an act he enjoyed or took pleasure in, and despite the horrific crime, Holmes has friends and family who continue to love and care about him.

Brauchler mocked the defense efforts to show how Holmes had been a nice young boy.

"How many videos of him 8 years old and younger would it take to outweigh that horror?" he asked. "Nobody is born a mass-murderer. That happens later."

He reminded them that Holmes fired four bullets into the body of his youngest victim as he showed an image of the 6-year-old girl.

"He made a decision to massacre, and he did; 12 dead from the community. Can anything outweigh that? No," Brauchler said. His voice dropped to a whisper as he repeated, "No."

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