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Holmes’ life in hands of jury

Killer's fate could be decided as early as Friday

Kelsey Ray, CU News Corps

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. — After more than 60 days in court, the Aurora theater shooting is over. No more closing arguments, no more phases. Only the deliberations remain. In hours or days, the world will know whether James Eagan Holmes is to live or die.

Thursday’s closing arguments saw prosecutor George Brauchler and public defender Tamara Brady passionately argue across an unbridgeable divide. For Brauchler, the only justice is execution. But for Brady, there can be no justice in the killing of a mentally ill man.

All told, the two sides have presented 2,695 separate pieces of evidence and 306 witnesses. Starting Thursday, jurors will be left alone in a deliberation room to reckon with their own morality.

If Brauchler has his way, all 12 members of the jury will find that life in prison without parole — the same sentence given to those who murder without aggravation —  is not enough for Holmes. But Brady hopes they will instead take mercy on a man she insists is simply the victim of unfortunate genetics.

‘Justice is death’

“This building that we’re in is not the Arapahoe County eye-for-an-eye center, or revenge center, or vengeance center,” George Brauchler told the courtroom during his closing arguments. “It is a justice center.”

As he has throughout the trial, he showed the jury photos of the victims killed in the July 20, 2012 shooting.

He walked the courtroom through the trial’s previous phases, reminding jurors that they have consistently chosen not to be lenient towards Holmes.

“But you did more than that,” became his refrain as he recalled the guilty verdict, the affirmation that the crime merits the death penalty, and the conclusion that mitigating factors do not outweigh aggravators.

“What is the appropriate sentence for such horror, such evil?” Brauchler gravely asked the jury. As the courtroom monitors replayed the shrieks from a 911 call, the faces of the 12 victims slowly fading to black, Brauchler made his final plea, saying the defendant’s name for the first time in the trial.

“For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” he said.

Anger without vengeance

As public defender Tamara Brady prepared to speak, nearly all of the victims’ family members filed out of the courtroom.

Brady reminded those who remained in the courtroom, “The death penalty will not make mental illness go away.” Unapologetically emotional, she pleaded with jurors to save her client’s life.

Brady reminded jurors that schizophrenia is not a choice and asked them not to punish Holmes or his parents for genetic bad luck.

She also warned jurors that they alone will be responsible for Holmes’ fate. “When you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this trial, it’s just you,” she said.

Acknowledging the pain and loss suffered by victims and their families, Brady argued that the death penalty is not the solution. Instead, she asked for a more merciful response. “Anger without vengeance, sadness without hate, justice without violence,” she said.

“The deaths of all of those people cannot be answered by another death,” Brady said, sounding fully aware of her burden.

“Please, no more death.”

The final step

If even one juror votes against the death penalty, Holmes will spend the rest of his life in prison. Though the names of dissenting jurors will not be revealed in open court, there is no law protecting them from self-identifying or being named by other jurors once the trial concludes. More than 60 percent of Coloradans have said they support the death penalty for James Holmes.

The final verdict could come as early as Friday. The court will announce the verdict three hours after it is reached.

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Explanatory Multimedia Reporting from CU Boulder Journalism Students
Holmes’ life in hands of jury