James Holmes, the man convicted of killing 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater three years ago has been been spared the death sentence. Instead, he will serve a life sentence with no parole, a sentence that came three hours after the jury reached a decision in the case Friday.
On all murder-in-the-first-degree charges, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision. By default, Holmes will now head to prison for life, without the possibility of parole.
As the judge read the charges, sobbing could be heard coming from the courtroom audience.
Our thoughts remain with the victims & families who have suffered unspeakable tragedy. No verdict can bring back what they have lost.
— John Hickenlooper (@hickforco) August 8, 2015
— Marshall Zelinger (@7Marshall) August 8, 2015
It has been nearly a month since the same jury found Holmes guilty on 12 counts of murder following his shooting spree three years ago. The prosecution called 226 witnesses to the stand; the defense brought 30. Holmes plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
On July 20, 2012, Holmes entered a midnight screening of the newly released “The Dark Knight Rises.” Roughly 20 minutes into the show, Holmes released noxious gas in the theater and began walking up and down the aisles shooting people. While he reloaded, victims recalled struggling with the decision to run or help the wounded in the aisles of the theater. An additional 70 people ranging from age six to 32 were injured in the attack.
Holmes, a 24-year-old recent dropout of a University of Colorado neuroscience graduate program at the time of the shooting, did not testify in his trial. The trial lasted 40 days, and five jurors were dismissed for failing to follow court media rules during that time.
Death row inmates are immediately assigned to so-called “administrative segregation” in Colorado, according to policy. The assignment is the highest-security classification that the state currently imposes, and it has been likened to solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has been criticized recently for its profoundly damaging effects on the human psychology, increasing psychiatric issues like depression, irrational anger, confusion and dizziness. Some inmates in solitary confinement have reportedly considered asking judges to execute them.
There are three people currently on death row in Colorado. Nathan Dunlap has been awaiting his death since 1996, when he was convicted of murdering four people during a ’93 shooting spree at a Chuck-E-Cheese. In December, he received a temporary reprieve from the governor. Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray are both on death row for the 2005 shootings of Vivian Wolfe and Javad Marshall-Fields, who were set to testify against the men in a separate murder case.
Since 1859, when the first individual was executed in the state, Colorado has put to death 640 people, according to a catalogue of executions by the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender. The last time anyone in the state was put to death was in 1972. There have been recent movements to abolish the death penalty in the state, and in 2009 the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would do so (the bill failed in the state Senate).
The bill would have taken some of the prosecuting funds currently spent on death penalty trials and put them toward solving the roughly 1,400 unsolved murder cases in the state, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Estimates indicate that abolishing the death penalty would save the state $1 million a year.
The Aurora shooting was the most deadly in Colorado since the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, when two students murdered 12 students and a teacher. The shooters committed suicide during the attack.