- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2013

CENTENNIAL, Colo. | Prosecutors said Monday they will seek the death penalty for James Eagan Holmes in the deadly Aurora theater massacre, formally rejecting an offer last week to plead guilty if his execution could be taken off the table.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said he reached the decision after his staff spoke with more than 800 victims and relatives of those killed in the July 20 shooting, which left 12 dead and 58 injured.

“In this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” said Mr. Brauchler, who was elected district attorney of the state’s 18th Judicial District in November.

Mr. Holmes, 25, showed no reaction to the announcement, while his parents clasped hands and embraced.

Defense attorneys had sought a sentencing deal in which Mr. Holmes would have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence. The offer came a day after the state legislature nixed a bill that would have outlawed capital punishment in Colorado.

Those attending Monday’s hearing had mixed reactions to the prosecution’s decision. Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm at the theater, said the death penalty was appropriate, even though he would have preferred to see prosecutors seek a sentence of life in prison.

Mr. Weaver also urged Mr. Holmes to plead guilty and spare the public the anguish and expense of a lengthy jury trial.

“If death is your penalty, then so be it. Does it fit the crime? Yes,” Mr. Weaver told reporters outside the Arapahoe County Courthouse. “Would I like to have him receive life? Yes, I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s death, but it’s not entirely up to me … and now it’s not up to him, either.”

Bryan Beard, a friend of shooting victim Alex Sullivan, said his first reaction was, “Thank goodness, I am so glad this is happening.”

“I’ve said this once and this is the last time I’ll say it. The only way [there will be] justice when somebody murders somebody else — is death,” Mr. Beard told reporters. “I guess you fight fire with fire. It sounds awful, but I’m tired of being so politically correct.”

A trial date was set for Feb. 4, 2014. Chief District Court Judge William Sylvester said he would be unable to preside over the case as a result of time constraints stemming from his duties as chief judge, and reassigned the case to District Court Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr.

“The reality [is] that a final resolution of this case is now likely years away,” said Judge Sylvester in his order.

Given that it is not seriously in question that Mr. Holmes was the gunman in the theater that night, the defense is expected to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. That could delay the trial by another year as attorneys line up expert witnesses to debate Mr. Holmes‘ mental state at the time of the shooting.

“It does become a lengthy process,” said Philip Anthony, CEO of DecisionQuest in Los Angeles, a trial-consulting firm not involved with the Holmes case. “And courts have to be particularly careful when the death penalty is sought because the entire transcript will be subject to such scrutiny during the appellate process.”

Three inmates now sit on Colorado’s Death Row, all of whom were prosecuted in the 18th Judicial District. One of those, Nathan Dunlap, is awaiting an execution date after exhausting his appeals stemming from his conviction in the 1993 murder of four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora.

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