James Holmes will formally be sentenced Wednesday by a judge to life in prison without parole for the murders of 12 people at a Colorado movie theater.
Holmes feels remorse for his deadly attack, but his mental illness and medications make it hard for him to express it, his mother told a judge in an impromptu apology for the suffering he caused.
With her husband by her side, Arlene Holmes was the final witness to take the lectern Tuesday, capping a sentencing hearing where more than 100 victims and survivors testified about the searing physical and emotional scars the 2012 shooting has left.
“We know that is very, very hard for people to see,” Holmes testified during her son’s final sentencing hearing. “We cannot feel the depths of your pain. We can only listen to everything you have expressed, and we pray for you… We are very sorry this tragedy happened, and sorry everyone has suffered so much.”
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. Prosecutors have said 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 a life sentence.
Defense attorney Daniel King said Tuesday Holmes will not appeal his conviction, sparing victims the possibility of another emotionally wrenching trial.
Holmes’ sentencing hearing was largely symbolic but gave scores of victims an unprecedented chance to vent their feelings to Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. They told him of flashbacks and nightmares, of relentless survivor’s guilt and enduring physical pain.
FBI Special Agent Jeremy Phelps said he will never forget the sounds and smells of chaos when he stepped inside the theater where bodies lay amid popcorn and spent bullet shells.
“These innocent victims were there to enjoy a movie, and one guy decided human life meant nothing,” said Aurora police Detective Craig Appel, who was among the first to interview Holmes. He and other detectives, hardened by years of investigations, still struggle to understand the massacre. “I had to think, what kind of a person could hurt so many people? Someone with no regard for human life, only for himself. It’s hard to understand.”
Victims told of friendships shattered and marriages broken. A girl who watched her 6-year-old friend die when she was just 13 couldn’t keep up her grades, her mother said. She switched schools and became known as “the girl in the theater.”
John Gerhauser, whose friend Jonathan Blunnk was killed, called on Holmes, a once-promising neuroscience graduate student, to make something of his life in prison that could help prevent future attacks.
“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.”
The only person to testify on Holmes’ behalf was his mother, who said she has been researching mental illness and ways to prevent mass violence.
“I am not proud I didn’t know a lot about mental illness. We should have known our family history better and realized that the signs of mental illness can surface at an early age,” said Holmes, who previously testified that she didn’t know her son suffered schizophrenia until after the shooting. “We want to share our knowledge with those who want to speak with us.”