Trial of Colorado theater gunman James Holmes: Opening statements Monday – Los Angeles Times
Eirz Scott does not plan to attend James Holmes’ trial unless her son, Jarell Brooks, is called to testify. But she knows how she wants the lengthy legal proceeding to end.
A bullet tore a chunk out of her boy’s thigh while he was helping a young family escape from the gunman on that awful summer night. Brooks is 22 now, attending college. He wants to be an attorney. Not a hero. Not a victim. He wants to move on.
Holmes, 27, has been charged with 166 counts in the largest mass shooting on American soil, a 2012 rampage in a suburban Denver theater that killed 12 moviegoers and injured 70, Brooks among them.
Opening statements in Holmes’ trial are scheduled to begin Monday, nearly three years after the massacre. It is way too soon for some victims, who must brace themselves to relive the horror, to face their attacker across a crowded courtroom. In some ways, though, it can’t come soon enough. They want the pain to end. They want justice.
“I hope he gets the maximum penalty that is necessary for him,” Scott said. When asked if she meant that Holmes should die by lethal injection, she thought for just a moment before responding. “I would have to say yes.”
Tom Teves’ son Alex, 24, had just earned his master’s degree in counseling psychology when he was killed shielding his girlfriend from the hail of bullets in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Today, Alex’s ashes are in an urn in his parents’ home. On Monday, Teves will be in the courtroom.
But the grieving father refuses to be interviewed for any story that includes the name and likeness of the man who killed his son. He and his wife, Caren, sent a letter last week to 150 media executives — including editors at the Los Angeles Times — asking them to change the way mass murders are covered.
“Remove or limit the name and likeness of the shooter, except for initial identification and when the alleged assailant is still at large,” the Teveses wrote in a letter signed by family members and victims from what they describe as “nine of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.” “Elevate the names and likeness of all victims killed.”
Anita Busch is part of the Teveses’ “No Notoriety” campaign. Her cousin, Micayla C. Medek, died in Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex on July 20, 2012, during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Medek was 23. She was a “sandwich artist” at Subway. She loved Hello Kitty and was saving money to travel to India.
Busch helped establish the National Compassion Fund/Aurora, which pledges that all money donated will go to the victims: Everyone in Theater 9, where a black-clad Holmes tossed gas canisters and unleashed a barrage of bullets, and those in Theater 8 who were injured when shots tore through the wall.
“People in America have no idea how bad it is behind the scenes after a mass shooting,” said Busch, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who says she will be in court when the trial begins. “The cameras will go. But the pain never leaves. People need help still.
“America doesn’t understand,” she said.
A record 9,000 summonses were mailed out in an effort to build a jury of 24 — 12 jurors and 12 alternates — for the trial, which is expected to last until Labor Day and become a referendum on the death penalty and how society handles mental illness.
There is no question that the onetime neuroscience graduate student pulled the trigger on that bloody summer night. He was arrested outside the theater with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a Remington shotgun and a Glock pistol. He had booby-trapped his apartment. His hair was died bright orange. He said he was the Joker, of Batman fame.
Two years ago, Holmes’ public defenders made a standing offer for their client to plead guilty to causing the deaths and injuries if he could serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
But prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty, and Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In Colorado, as in a few other states, the burden of proof lies with the district attorney, who must now prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane at the time of the rampage.
Jurors must decide whether Holmes is guilty, not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. If he is found guilty, they must decide whether he will be put to death.
Craig Silverman, a former Denver chief deputy district attorney who is now in private practice, said much of the evidence revealed so far could benefit the prosecution, including what he described as Holmes’ “premeditation on steroids.”
After he failed his graduate oral boards at the University of Colorado Denver, Holmes threatened a professor, according to court documents, and began “a detailed and complex plan to obtain firearms, ammunition, a tear-gas grenade, body armor, a gas mask and a ballistic helmet.”
He also set up a profile on an adult website asking, “Will you visit me in prison?” That, Silverman said, “is a dynamite piece of evidence.”
But Karen Steinhauser, an adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and a former prosecutor, said the defense would argue that “the planning is all part of his severe mental illness, that it rises to the level of legal insanity and shows that he did not know the difference between right and wrong.”
“I want to hear what the experts have to say — the differing opinions with regards to sanity, what their basis is,” Steinhauser said. “This case will come down to a battle of the experts.”
Yet some of the most powerful testimony will probably come from the victims, who both dread the trial and welcome it.
Among the first to testify will be Joshua Nowlan, who was shot through his right arm and left leg. Nowlan has had multiple surgeries. A skin graft moved a tattoo from his left shoulder blade onto his injured arm. He has sued the theater’s parent company.
“We just hope everything goes well with the trial,” Nowlan said. “I’m not ready to talk about it.” And yet, he added, “I testify Tuesday.”
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