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Lawyers in theater shooting trial make final appeals to jury

July 15, 2015

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — James Holmes was legally sane when he entered a packed movie theater armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, intent on killing as many people as he could, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in closing arguments at the gunman’s trial.

Holmes slipped into the theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012 — almost three years ago — and opened fire. Twelve people died and 70 were wounded.

District Attorney George Brauchler and defense lawyer Daniel King made their final appeals to jurors Tuesday before handing over the case. Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.

Defense attorneys are asking for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would send Holmes to the state mental hospital for an indefinite commitment. Prosecutors say Holmes should be convicted of murder and executed.

“That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt, and he needs to be held accountable for what he did,” Brauchler said.

But King countered that Holmes was controlled by his schizophrenia.

“The mental illness caused this to happen. Only the mental illness caused this, and nothing else,” King said.

Brauchler again stressed the heavy toll on unsuspecting victims who had gone to see the midnight premiere of a Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“They came in hoping to see the story of a hero dressed in black, someone who would fight insurmountable odds for justice,” Brauchler said. “Instead, a different figure appeared by the screen. ... He came there with one thing in his heart and his mind, and that was mass murder.”

Many of the victims and family members in the courtroom wept as Brauchler showed photos of the dead and wounded and recounted their stories. Josh Nowlan, who was shot in the leg and walks with a cane, pressed his hands into his eyes and shook.

Jurors showed no emotion but craned their heads toward the gallery when Brauchler said one badly wounded victim, Caleb Medley, was seated there.

King urged the jurors to set aside the deeply emotional impact of the massacre and decide based on the wording of the statute. He repeatedly told them the courtroom was “the fortress of the law.”

“Here in the fortress of the law, there is no room for hatred or revenge or retaliation,” he said.

Holmes, now 27, does not dispute that he was the lone gunman who attacked the theater but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers say schizophrenia so warped his mind he could not tell right from wrong, and that he was in the grip of a psychotic episode.

“When he stepped into that theater, the evidence is clear that he could not control his thoughts, that he could not control his actions, and that he could not control his perceptions,” King said.

King pleaded with jurors to believe that Holmes’ mental illness was the sole cause of the attack. On the courtroom video screens, King showed multiple images of Holmes as he appeared in his first court appearance, wide-eyed with shocking orange hair.

“I would ask you to do good, be strong, and do the right thing,” King said. “He’s not guilty by reason of insanity.”

Brauchler told jurors the evidence shows Holmes knew what he was doing was illegal and wrong and that he cannot be considered insane under Colorado law.

The prosecutor methodically reviewed Holmes’ elaborate preparations, the horrific attack and finally his decision to surrender when he saw police closing in outside the theater.

“That is logical. That is rational, and that is anything — anything — but psychotic,” he said.

Brauchler frequently pointed at Holmes, who sat impassively at the defense table, often looking at one of the three video screens in the courtroom.

“He knows it’s wrong,” Brauchler said at one point. “Wrong for him, wrong for society.”

Both sides are trying to help jurors make sense of thousands of pieces of evidence and more than 250 witnesses who testified in the 11-week trial.

Two state-appointed forensic psychiatrists who evaluated Holmes determined that he was legally sane, despite severe mental illness. The defense called its own psychiatrists who testified Holmes was insane.

Brauchler ended his closing argument with a rhythmic summation of the psychiatrists’ findings: “Sane, sane, sane,” he said. Then he added, “Guilty.”

The 12 jurors who will decide the case include nine women and three men. One of the men was a student at Columbine High School at the time of the 1999 shootings, but he told the judge during jury selection he could be fair, despite having been childhood friends with the shooters and going to the prom with a victim.

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