Jury deliberations begin in James Holmes trial. Will insanity plea prevail?

Jury deliberations begin in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater murder trial. If the jury accepts defendant James Holmes's insanity plea, Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison instead of death.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP/File
James Holmes sits in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colorado, on July 23, 2012.

Three years after James Holmes gunned down 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, the jury is set to decide the 27-year-old’s fate.

The jury started deliberating the case at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning. They must decide whether they accept or reject the defense team's plea that Mr. Holmes was insane while committing the crime.

On Tuesday, after 11 weeks, attorneys from both sides offered their closing arguments.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler reviewed Holmes’s elaborate preparations for the crime and according to KUSA-TV News concluded: “That is logical. That is rational, and that is anything – anything – but psychotic."

“Look at the evidence then hold this man accountable,” said the prosecutor as CNN reports. “Reject this claim that he didn't know right from wrong when he murdered those people and tried to kill the others.... That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt, and he needs to be held accountable for what he did."

On the other side, defense attorney Dan King said the shooter suffered from a long-standing mental illness, and that psychosis had obscured Holmes's ability to think about things the way a rational person does.

“The evidence is clear, that he could not control his thoughts, that he could not control his actions, and he could not control his perceptions," the defense attorney said, according to CNN. "Only the mental illness caused this to happen and nothing else.”

James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 others at a midnight screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012. In May 2013 he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and on June 3 his plea was accepted.

During the trial, Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who treated Holmes, testified that he had homicidal thoughts 3-4 times a day. A total of 20 doctors have confirmed that Holmes suffers from schizophrenia, according to The Associated Press.

But the AP also reported Mr. Brauchler said two previously secret court-ordered psychiatric exams found the defendant to be sane. ABC reported in May that state-appointed psychiatrist William Reid previously, who examined Holmes for five days, has testified that he was sane at the time of the shooting.

Over a 49-day period, KUSA-TV News reports more than 250 witnesses were called to the stand, while Holmes himself chose not to testify.

During final arguments, Holmes’ parents sat quietly behind him, according to NBC. They have not talked to reporters, but have written two open letters ever since the shooting. In December 2014, they wrote in a letter that their son is not a monster.

“We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster. He is not a monster,” the letter reads. “He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness. We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.”

Holmes faces 24 murder counts for 12 victims. If the jury finds the defendant guilty of any of those counts, the case will head to the death penalty phase.

According to The Associated Press, insanity defenses are successful in 25 percent of felony trials nationally, and even less so in homicides.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.