© 2023 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Prosecutors Say Theater Shooter's Detailed Plan Showed Intent — And Sanity


James Holmes - he was the gunman carrying out a massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., three years ago as people were gathered to watch the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the Batman movies. Holmes' fate is now in the hands of a jury. He could get the death penalty if he's found guilty of killing 12 people. He's pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Yesterday, attorneys on both sides made their closing arguments. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus was there, and he has this report.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: There wasn't an empty seat in the courtroom as District Attorney George Brauchler stood before the jury to sum up the case. Journalists from all over the world and families of the victims filled the gallery. Brauchler told the jury that on July 20, 2012, fans of "Batman" crowded into a theater, thrilled to see their favorite superhero. Shortly after the movie began, James Holmes entered the theater through an exit door.


GEORGE BRAUCHLER: He came in with overwhelming firepower. He brought with him over 700 rounds, including steel-penetrating rounds. And he shot anything and everything he could.

MARKUS: With an assault rifle, shotgun and handgun, he killed 12 people and wounded 70 more. Through the course of the trial, jurors have seen grisly photos of the dead and injured. They've heard emotional testimony of the chaos and confusion in the theater. And Brauchler reminded jurors of the meticulous planning that Holmes put into the massacre, casing the theater, dressing in full body armor, using tear gas to keep people from escaping as he opened fire.


BRAUCHLER: He knows that his victims won't agree with him. He knows his victims want to live. He knows his victims are going to resist his attempts to kill them; they're going to try to save their own lives. So he leaves nothing to chance. He's planned for all the contingencies. And all of that planning goes to the intent.

MARKUS: Brauchler noted that two court-appointed psychiatric experts found Holmes was sane at the time of the attack, that he could tell the difference between right and wrong. Brauchler finished his closing argument pointing at Holmes and repeating that evaluation.


BRAUCHLER: Sane, sane, sane... Guilty.

MARKUS: Holmes's public defender, Dan King, up next, appeared dumbfounded by the prosecution's argument.


DAN KING: To stand here and pretend like Mr. Holmes is not mentally ill is misconstruing the evidence.

MARKUS: The defense hired its own psychiatric experts, who found that Holmes was insane at the time of the attack. King said the experts on both sides may have disagreed on legal sanity. But...


KING: All four of them have indicated that this is a very serious and chronic and long-standing mental illness.

MARKUS: In fact, King said all the psychiatric experts diagnosed Holmes as having some type of schizophrenia. King also reminded jurors of how one of the prosecution's psychiatric experts reacted to a notebook Holmes wrote before the shooting. It contained nonsensical rantings and outlined his plan to kill.


KING: And do you remember what he said about that? He said, when I saw that notebook, I thought, wow, there's a lot of crazy in there.

MARKUS: In it, Holmes wrote about how he believed he could acquire other people's self-worth by killing them. After closing arguments, Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was shot to death in the theater, was confident that the jury would convict on all counts of murder and attempted murder.

TOM SULLIVAN: Looking forward to sometime early part of next week. We'll come back, and we'll get, you know, 165 guilty verdicts. And we can move on to the next level.

MARKUS: That next level would be sentencing. If the jury finds him guilty, they will next decide if he gets the death penalty. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Markus