Theater shooting prosecutors rest after emotional case
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting trial rested Friday, concluding their argument that James Holmes methodically planned and executed the 2012 massacre in a case that relied heavily on victims’ recollections of the carnage he inflicted inside the darkened cinema.
Over the past eight weeks, prosecutors weaved experts’ testimony with survivors’ personal stories to try to convince jurors that Holmes was sane when he opened fire on a midnight showing of a Batman film. The former neuroscience student killed 12 people and wounded 70.
For its last witness, the prosecution called a survivor whose story was among the most heart-wrenching. Ashley Moser was paralyzed and suffered a miscarriage in the shooting, and her 6-year-old daughter, Veronica, was killed.
The soft-spoken Moser testified from her wheelchair, using a tissue to wipe away tears as she recalled the attack.
She said it started with an explosion and something spewing gas behind her, then bright lights flashed at the front of the room. Moser assumed pranksters were setting off fireworks, and she stood up to take her daughter’s hand and leave.
“Did her hand reach back?” District Attorney George Brauchler asked.
“It just slipped through my hand,” she replied.
Moser then felt a pain in her chest. She said she fell on top of her daughter and couldn’t move.
“I heard the movie still playing and people crying and screaming,” Moser said, vaguely recalling being carried out of the theater. She learned later that her daughter was dead.
As Moser testified just feet away, Holmes stared straight ahead, slightly swiveling in his chair.
Prosecutors rested their case after showing Veronica’s kindergarten graduation picture, the last of hundreds of images displayed for the jury on large-screen TVs. Jurors heard from more than 200 witnesses, including more than 70 shooting survivors.
Defense attorneys sought to limit victims’ testimony, concerned that gruesome details would unfairly bias the jury. Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. has repeatedly reminded jurors not to let sympathy sway them.
Victims and family members filled the gallery Friday to observe. Several hugged and thanked prosecutors once the jury was dismissed for the day.
Defense lawyers soon will begin calling their own psychiatrists and presenting other evidence to argue Holmes was in the grips of a psychotic episode at the time of the shootings and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. They plan to begin their case Thursday.
Holmes’ attorneys says his mental illness rendered him unable to tell right from wrong, a key factor the jury must consider in determining if he was sane. They say Holmes should be committed to the state mental hospital.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Holmes abandoned a prestigious graduate program at the University of Colorado-Denver before he opened fire at the suburban Denver theater where more than 400 people were watching “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Prosecutors showed jurors nearly 21 hours of Holmes’ videotaped interviews with a state-appointed psychiatrist who concluded Holmes was seriously mentally ill but legally sane at the time of the shooting.
On the video, Holmes said he felt nothing as he took aim at fleeing moviegoers. Halting and awkward, he blurted out that he feared being stopped from committing what he acknowledged was a crime.
Prosecutors also played for jurors an investigator’s video of the shooting’s aftermath. It showed bodies wedged between rows of seats and sprawled throughout aisles amid spent ammunition, spilled popcorn and blood.
Holmes’ classmates, a former girlfriend and two psychiatrists who treated him all testified they knew nothing of his plan or that he was assembling an arsenal of weapons and enough chemicals to rig his apartment into a potentially lethal booby trap.
On Friday, classmate Hillary Allen testified that Holmes’ sent her text messages days before the attack, telling her to avoid him because he was “bad news bears.”
Prosecutors showed Holmes’ spiral notebook, which included detailed drawings of the theater complex along with pros and cons of attacking different auditoriums. He wrote about an “obsession to kill” he held since childhood.
Hours before the attack, Holmes mailed the journal to Dr. Lynne Fenton, a university psychiatrist who had treated him. Fenton testified she had too little evidence to have him detained, but she was so concerned after he confessed his homicidal thoughts that she violated his health care privacy and called his mother.
Trial began April 27 after three months of jury selection that produced 12 jurors and 12 alternates.
Five of those jurors have been dismissed — three amid concern they were exposed to news of the proceedings, one after her brother-in-law was wounded in a Denver ATM robbery, and one because she recognized a witness. That left 19 jurors, including seven alternates.
Sadie Gurman can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/sgurman