With insanity plea rejected, weighty decision awaits theater shooting jurors

The man who killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater in 2012 was found guilty on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder, and other charges. Jurors rejected his plea of insanity and will now consider whether or not to impose the death penalty.

David Zalubowski/AP
Katie Medley pushes her husband, Caleb, into the Arapahoe County Courthouse before jurors convicted Colorado theater shooter James Holmes in the July 2012 massacre at a movie theater as the trial concluded Thursday in Centennial, Colo. Caleb Medley was severely injured when shot through the right eye in the shooting spree. The 27-year-old Holmes, who had been working toward his Ph.D. in neuroscience, could get the death penalty for the massacre that left 12 people dead and dozens of others wounded early Friday, July 20, 2012.

James Holmes was pronounced guilty Thursday of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder, and other charges relating to the 2012 massacre in a Colorado movie theater. The verdict took almost an hour to read, and victims’ families expressed relief at the quick rejection of Mr. Holmes’ insanity plea.

The verdict comes two years after Holmes killed 12 people and injured many others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012. The next decision, which could take another month, will determine whether or not Holmes will be punished with death.

"I'm glad we're at this point, but at the same time, we have a long way to go," said Marcus Weaver, a survivor who was injured in the attack and whose friend Rebecca Wingo was killed, to The Associated Press.

Holmes’ mental health formed the basis of the defense’s claim he could not tell right from wrong at the time of the attack that due to schizophrenia and a psychotic breakdown and thus was legally insane. It will also play a key role in the proceedings over his sentencing.

"They're going to have to decide, for someone who is mentally ill, if a death sentence is the right punishment," Karen Steinhauser, a defense attorney who is not involved with the case, told AP. "It ends up being a much more personal decision."

As The Christian Science Monitor has previously reported, Coloradans have mixed feelings about the death penalty. Amanda Paulson reports:

In Colorado, just one person has been put to death since the death penalty was reinstated nationally in 1976, and three inmates are on death row. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper granted a temporary reprieve to one of those inmates in 2013, citing his concerns with the death penalty – a decision that came back to haunt him in the 2014 election, where he was ultimately reelected.

‘It is a penalty that has been used very infrequently; it is a penalty which the people of Colorado do have very mixed feelings about,’ says [Ms. Steinhauser].”

If a single juror opposes dealing Holmes the death penalty, Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison. This decision, if made, could reflect changing attitudes toward capital punishment in the United States.

A national poll conducted last year shows Americans now oppose the death penalty at a 2-1 margin. Polling from two years ago in Colorado, however, puts support for the death penalty at 69 percent.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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