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Holmes jury keeps execution as option as sentencing advances

August 3, 2015
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FILE - In this July 23, 2012, file photo, James Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 more in a shooting spree in a crowded theatre in 2012, sits in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Jurors in the Colorado theater shooting trial reached a decision Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, on whether to keep the death penalty as an option for Holmes. The jury deliberated for less than three hours, starting Thursday after Holmes' parents made an emotional plea for their son's life because he is mentally ill. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool, File)
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FILE - In this July 23, 2012, file photo, James Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 more in a shooting spree in a crowded theatre in 2012, sits in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Jurors in the Colorado theater shooting trial reached a decision Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, on whether to keep the death penalty as an option for Holmes. The jury deliberated for less than three hours, starting Thursday after Holmes' parents made an emotional plea for their son's life because he is mentally ill. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool, File)

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — Jurors on Monday moved one step closer toward sentencing James Holmes to death for his Colorado movie theater attack, taking less than three hours to reject arguments that the former neuroscience student’s mental illness means he should not die.

The decision clears the way for one last attempt from both sides to sway the jury, with gripping testimony from victims about their suffering and more appeals for mercy for the man convicted of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 more during the 2012 assault at a Batman movie.

Holmes, his reactions dulled by anti-psychotic drugs, stood as ordered and appeared emotionless as Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. read the decisions.

Robert and Arlene Homes held hands, their fingers interlaced, and directed their eyes at the floor. With each unanimous “yes,” it became ever more clear that jurors believe their son’s crimes outweighed their testimony. She began to cry, and her husband held out a box of tissues.

More tears flowed in the gallery. Rena Medek began silently sobbing when the judge read the name of her 23-year-old daughter Micayla. Ian Sullivan, the father of Holmes’ youngest victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, closed his eyes when her name was read. Veronica’s grandfather, Robert Sullivan, glared at Holmes and nodded his head softly.

The jury was told to return Tuesday morning for the final phase. Then, the nine women and three men will finally decide whether the 27-year-old Holmes should receive a lethal injection, or spend life in prison without parole.

The same jury swiftly rejected Holmes’ insanity defense, deciding that he was capable of telling right from wrong when he carried out the theater attack in the Denver suburb of Aurora on July 20, 2012. Their quick decision on Monday raised expectations that they will choose a death sentence after what prosecutors estimate will be two or three more days of testimony from survivors.

But legal experts said there’s no way to predict that final decision.

Monday’s preliminary verdict was highly technical. They found simply that Holmes’ mental problems and the portrait his attorneys painted of a kinder, gentler younger man did not outweigh the horrors of his calculated attack on defenseless moviegoers.

This next stage can be more challenging for each juror, and to choose capital punishment, they must be unanimous, Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said.

The defense had argued that mental illness reduced Holmes’ “moral culpability,” and that his personal history made him worthy of mercy. They said it was schizophrenia, not free will, that drove him to murder. They called his former teachers, friends, sister and parents, who said “Jimmy” had been a friendly child who withdrew socially as he grew older.

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Contributors include Associated Press Writer Thomas Peipert in Centennial, Colorado.

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