CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – Scores of victims of James Holmes’ deadly attack on a Aurora movie theater, now free to vent their feelings before the judge, are describing haunting flashbacks, relentless survivor’s guilt and searing physical pain that endures three years later.
Throughout Holmes’ three-month trial, if they were called to testify, survivors and family members were stifled by objections and court orders preventing them from veering off topic or saying too much about the extent of their loss.
But they were allowed to speak without interruption as Holmes final sentencing hearing continued Tuesday, offering testimony that was sometimes quiet and reflective, sometimes laced with anger and frustration.
Kathleen Larimer, whose son, John, was killed in the shooting, steadied herself to read a prepared statement but was halted by tears.
“I’m so tired of crying,” she said from a lectern facing Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who on Wednesday will formally sentence Holmes to life in prison without parole and up to 3,318 additional years on attempted murder convictions.
Jurors rejected Holmes’ insanity plea, convicting him of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 others when he opened fire on a packed theater in suburban Denver on July 20, 2012. The jury was divided on the sentence, with 11 favoring death and one favoring life without parole. Under Colorado law, jurors must be unanimous to impose the death penalty, so Holmes automatically got life.
The victim-impact statements shared by at least 100 survivors, witnesses and grieving family members gave a glimpse into the far-reaching impact of the massacre on the community and beyond.
Marriages ended. Friendships shattered. Toni Billapando, who was shot and whose friend, Alex Sullivan, was killed, wondered about the effects of the shooting on her son, now 3. He was born just two weeks after the attack, as Billapando was recovering from her wounds. She was married at the time. Now, she’s divorced.
“Imagine telling your child that monsters are real and not to be afraid of the dark when you’re scared of the dark yourself,” said another survivor, Stephanie Davies, who has an 8-month-old son. She went to the theater with her best friend, cradling her when she was shot. Now, the two no longer speak. “It was easier to heal ourselves in our own messed-up ways,” Davies said in a statement read aloud by a prosecutor.
But the healing isn’t over. Davies still sees the wide-eyed and bloodied faces of victims whose bodies she army-crawled over to escape the chaos. Billapando still struggles with knowing she bought her friends the tickets. Others still refuse to step into a theater.
A few called on Holmes, a once-promising neuroscience graduate student, to make something of his life in prison that could help prevent future attacks. Or at least, to apologize.
John Gerhauser, whose best friend, Jonathan Blunk, was killed, told the judge: “If I were in charge, I’d say, this guy has to finish his Ph.D. and do something good for humanity or his death sentence will be reconsidered.”
– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)