CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Laughing between her tears, 19-year-old Cierra Cowden took the stand for her family on Wednesday, trying to describe her father’s personality and show how difficult his absence has been since he was murdered in a Colorado movie theater.

Gordon Cowden, a 51-year-old father of four, was the oldest person killed that day. He was patient and charming and so kind that he once stopped their car to herd a prairie dog to safety. In the mornings, he would awaken his children with a kind of reveille, singing “dit-dit-dittle-ee,” his daughter testified.
Gordon W. Cowden, 51
Cierra and her sister Brooke were at his side during the midnight Batman movie premiere when James Holmes opened fire. Like other relatives of the 12 people killed, she told jurors how the July 2012 attack upended their lives, leaving gaping holes in family photos and unfilled seats at Christmas dinner tables.

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“I just feel like my family’s broken,” she said.

Prosecutors hope this heartbreaking testimony will help persuade jurors to sentence Holmes, now 27, to lethal injection. Death sentences in Colorado must be unanimous, so even one juror’s objection to capital punishment will mean life without parole.

The crimes left a profound and continuing impact on the lives of these families, survivors said.

Mary Theresa Hoover said she moved out of the home where she raised her son, because it was too hard to live there without him. Amanda Medek, whose little sister was killed, can’t bear to enter theaters. Sandy Phillips said she and her husband no longer celebrate Thanksgiving, because their daughter’s birthday was Nov. 27.

LIVE VIDEO: Watch The Trial Live At CBS4’s Theater Shooting Trial Special Section

“I have PTSD, my brain is mush, I can’t retain things like I used to, I cry every day still, probably always will,” Phillips said, describing how she swapped loving text messages with her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, 24, an aspiring sports broadcaster, just before she was killed.

She and her husband, Lonnie, cling to each other for support, but “we don’t plan on a future anymore,” Phillips said.

Defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked jurors not to “answer death with death,” insisting that the crimes were caused by the psychotic breakdown of a mentally ill young man. She said life without parole is the morally appropriate response.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. told jurors not to be swayed by the emotional nature of the highly charged testimony. “Your decision must reflect your individual reasoned moral judgment,” he repeated.

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But some jurors clutched tissues and cried during Tuesday’s testimony.

Hoover described her son, 18-year-old A.J. Boik, as a “ball of happiness” who planned to go to art school and had just graduated from the same high school where she frantically raced for information after the shooting.

A.J.’s brother is grieving quietly, she said.

“I am now a single mother of one child,” she said. “I have lost half of what I was put on this Earth to do. My life is basically half of what it was.”

Medek recalled frantically searching hospitals for her little sister Micayla before officers approached with an image of her drivers’ license, confirming her death. “All I remember is my knees buckling and slamming into the concrete floor,” she said.

Micayla was “filled with love,” she said. “Kind, sweet, innocent. She was a kid. She was just about to be a college kid. She was young. She was never in love. She never got to have a family.”

Some described repeatedly calling their missing relatives cellphones that night, desperately hoping to find them alive. Police officers testified earlier that abandoned cellphones rang inside the theater for hours after the shootings.

The defense has so far declined to question these relatives. The last round of closing arguments could take place Thursday, and deliberations could begin Friday, attorneys on both sides said.

By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer

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