CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4)– Gunman James Holmes was convicted Thursday in the Aurora theater shooting that left 12 people dead and dozens more injured, putting the death penalty option at the center of the courtroom.
The jury delivered their verdict quickly on only the second day of deliberations.They rejected Holmes’ insanity defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of 12 people. Dozens of others were also injured in the shooting nearly three years ago.
Holmes, 27, showed no emotion as the verdict was read. He stood with his defense attorneys as it took Judge Carlos A. Samour an hour to read the verdict.
CBS4 Legal Analyst Karen Steinhauser, a Denver defense attorney and former prosecutor, commented on the first phase of the trial and what the jury must now consider.
“It was in some ways easier than perhaps the second phase will be. In the second phase the jurors will have to decide whether the defendant lives or dies,” said Steinhauser.
Marcus Weaver was with Rebecca Wingo the night of the shooting. She did not survive. He told CBS4 the verdict brought him to tears.
“As each of the counts were read it was just an unreal situation and we knew this day would come so we’ve been trying to prepare as best we can but nothing can really prepare you for the emotion, the anxiety, the feelings. And I found myself just weeping as they read each count,” said Weaver.
CBS4 reporter Stan Bush was inside the courtroom when the verdict was read. He described the atmosphere in the room and the gunman in the moments before the decision was handed down.
“Tension was very high in that courtroom. You saw more reaction from James Holmes than I think we’ve seen since the beginning of this trial. He sort of swiveled in his chair back and forth for about 20 minutes, talking to his lawyers, talking down to his hands, it’s really more emotion than we’ve seen from him the whole time. Same thing with his parents, too who seemed to be in a very tight embrace, they were crying before this began. And then all of sudden the jury came in and three of the jurors were in tears,” said CBS4 Reporter Stan Bush. “The tension was at its highest at the moment the first verdict was read. I would almost describe it as a quiet eruption of emotion. You saw Sandy Phillips, Jessica Ghawi’s mother put her hands up, and sort of silently say ‘Yes.’ It was a huge moment.”
Holmes’ defense attorneys never disputed the fact that he perpetrated the massacre. But his lawyers argued — and it was key to his defense — that Holmes was insane and that he didn’t know right from wrong in the July 20, 2012, attack.
During the testimony in the first phase of the trial, the jury heard 11 weeks of emotional testimony from 256 witnesses, including those injured and victims’ family members. Expert witnesses also testified, forensic evidence was presented and more than 20 hours video evidence was shown.
The jury heard testimony from two state-appointed forensic psychiatrists called by the prosecutors who examined Holmes months and years after the shooting. They found him severely mentally ill yet capable of knowing right from wrong, concluding that he was sane.
The second phase of the trial was scheduled to start on Wednesday in Arapahoe County Court.
“I would expect the death penalty phase will probably be several weeks long,” Steinhauser said. “The prosecutor is going to be presenting evidence again from victims but talking about the effect that the defendant’s actions has had on their lives, on their families, on their ability to go forward.”
Steinhauser said she expects the defense in the second phase of the trial will continue to argue that mental illness weighed Holmes down.