, CENTENNIAL, USA, Jul 17 – “Batman” theater gunman James Holmes was found guilty on all charges — and could now face the death penalty — over the 2012 massacre that left 12 dead and 70 more injured in Colorado.
Judge Carlos Samour took a full hour to read out the verdicts relating to each of the 82 victims hit when Holmes opened fire at a packed midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in the town of Aurora, just outside Denver.
The 27-year-old Holmes, dressed in a blue shirt and cream-colored trousers with his hands in his pockets, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out.
The trial now moves to the sentencing phase, in which prosecutors are calling for Holmes — who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity — to face the death penalty. Jurors will reconvene next Wednesday.
On Thursday, the jury foreman handed over a thick stack of verdict forms, representing the scale of the atrocity: in all, Holmes faced 164 charges of murder and attempted murder, as well as one count of possession of explosives.
There was some relief at the verdicts.
“I felt so much relief and closure,” Jansen Young, whose boyfriend Jon Blunk died trying to protect her from the bullets with his body, was quoted by the Denver Post as saying.
“It’s been a long three years and it’s clearly not over,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, but added: “While it’s been difficult and emotional for everybody, in particular families, we’re happy we’ve reached this point.”
Jurors were relatively quick to reach their verdicts: they only retired to deliberate Wednesday on whether Holmes — who has been in custody since he was arrested outside the theater — was sane when he opened fire.
– Insanity plea rejected –
Wrapping up the trial on Tuesday, prosecutor George Brauchler ran through a blow-by-blow account of the massacre, which stunned America and reignited the country’s perennial debate about gun control.
Referring to the 400 people in the theater, he said: “They came in hoping to see a story of a hero dressed in black, someone who would fight insurmountable odds in the name of justice and trying to protect others.
“Instead a different figure appeared by the screen dressed all in black. And he came there with one thing in his heart and in his mind — and that was mass murder,” the prosecutor said.
But Holmes’ defense lawyer Dan King insisted his client was insane, saying: “The fact of the matter is that when Mr Holmes stepped into that theater… he had lost touch with reality.
“You cannot divorce the mental illness from this case, or from Mr Holmes. The mental illness caused this to happen. Only the mental illness caused this to happen, and nothing else.”
Brauchler, however, urged the court to “reject this claim that he didn’t know right from wrong… That guy was sane beyond a reasonable doubt, and he needs to be held accountable for what he did.”
It appears jurors did not buy the defense team’s arguments.
Marcus Weaver, whose friend Rebecca Wingo was among those killed, called the killings a “heinous act.”
“It’s been an emotional ride to get to this point,” Weaver said after the verdicts. “I will never forget the silhouette of the shotgun. The sounds I heard. My friend’s lifeless body,” he added, quoted by the Denver Post.
The 49-day-long trial included weeks of grisly evidence and testimony from more than 250 witnesses. The jury also was shown hours of videotaped interviews of Holmes by psychiatrists for the state.
Both they and two defense psychiatrists agreed the defendant struggled with mental illness. The state’s psychiatrists however maintained that Holmes was sane when he carried out the rampage.
Samour said Thursday he hoped the punishment phase of the trial would end sometime in August.
If Holmes had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been confined to a state mental hospital.
Jordan Ghawi, whose sister Jessica was among those killed, tweeted: “Take a moment to remember the victims of #theatershooting trial. Our thoughts are with the family today.”