Colorado theater gun­man’s sen­tenc­ing caps gru­el­ing trial


James Holmes was sent to prison for the rest of his life as the judge be­lit­tled him and spec­ta­tors jeered at him. The sur­vivors of his mur­der­ous at­tack on a Colorado movie theater won­dered aloud how they would spend the rest of their days.

Judge Car­los A. Samour on Wed­nes­day sen­tenced Holmes to the max­i­mum — 12 con­sec­u­tive life terms with­out pa­role plus 3,318 years — then made a fi­nal, con­temp­tu­ous or­der: “Sher­iff, get the de­fen­dant out of my court­room, please.”

Samour de­scribed Holmes as an an­gry quit­ter who gave up on life and turned his ha­tred into mur­der and may­hem against in­no­cent strangers.

Sur­vivors and vic­tims’ fam­ily mem­bers in the gallery cheered, and some­one shouted “Loser!” as deputies took Holmes away.

The long, gru­el­ing trial came to its for­mal con­clu­sion three years and 37 days af­ter Holmes mur­dered 12 peo­ple and tried to kill 70 more dur­ing a mid­night show­ing of the Bat­man movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in the Den­ver sub­urb of Aurora.

Samour, who was scrupu­lously re­spect­ful to­ward Holmes through­out the trial, launched into a with­er­ing con­dem­na­tion of him as some­one who knew right from wrong but “robbed the world of all the good these vic­tims would have ac­com­plished” and ir­repara­bly dam­aged the lives of hun­dreds more.

“It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to com­pre­hend how a hu­man be­ing is ca­pa­ble of such acts,” Samour said.

‘It will never be over’

Out­side the court­house, pros­e­cu­tors and vic­tims broke into smiles and even cracked a few jokes, their re­lief ob­vi­ous. But they also won­dered what their fu­tures would hold with­out the daily rou­tine of the trial and the com­fort they found in each other’s pres­ence.

“I’m re­lieved that it’s over, but I don’t think it will ever be over, you know?” said Rena Medek, whose daugh­ter Micayla was among those killed. “I al­ways have my daugh­ter to think about.”

Kath­leen Larimer only re­cently has been able to ac­cept that her son, John, was mur­dered in the at­tack. She said the trial has be­come her life and she doesn’t know what mov­ing for­ward will be like.

Samour was re­quired to give Holmes life with­out pa­role, rather than the death penalty, af­ter a split jury de­cided the sen­tence ear­lier this month. Pros­e­cu­tors have said 11 jurors fa­vored death and one voted for life with­out pa­role. Un­der Colorado law, jurors must be unan­i­mous to im­pose the death penalty.

The 3,318 ad­di­tional years were for Holmes’ con­vic­tions for at­tempted mur­der and an ex­plo­sives count.

Colorado court sys­tem spokesman Rob McCal­lum could not say whether the sen­tence was a record for the state. He said it was the long­est he was aware of.

Be­fore sen­tenc­ing Holmes, Samour tried to re­as­sure vic­tims who were up­set at the lack of a death penalty that Holmes’ pun­ish­ment would still be se­vere.

The judge also dis­missed com­plaints that the trial was a waste of time, not­ing it gave fam­ily mem­bers and sur­vivors an op­por­tu­nity to tell the world about their or­deal. The case could have ended the same way more than two years ago, when Holmes of­fered to plead guilty if he could avoid the death penalty. Pros­e­cu­tors re­jected the of­fer.

Vic­tim ad­vo­cates col­lected dozens of col­or­ful tis­sue boxes scat­tered about the court­room floor and loaded them into a brown box. Ther­apy dogs that com­forted wit­nesses were led out of the court­house by han­dlers, one of whom pat­ted the dog and whis­pered, “We’re done.”

Colorado pris­ons of­fi­cials will de­ter­mine where Holmes will be in­car­cer­ated af­ter an eval­u­a­tion that in­cludes his men­tal health.

Holmes, who has been di­ag­nosed with vary­ing forms of schizophre­nia, could wind up in the cor­rec­tions depart­ment’s men­tal hos­pi­tal, the 250-bed San Car­los Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity in Pue­blo. He also could be trans­ferred to an out-of-state prison.

The Ara­pa­hoe County Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­fused to dis­cuss Holmes or say whether he had left the jail, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Holmes moved from Cal­i­for­nia to Colorado in 2011 and en­tered a pres­ti­gious post­grad­u­ate neu­ro­science pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Colorado in Den­ver. But he dropped out af­ter a year; by that time, he was well into plan­ning the at­tack and stock­pil­ing am­mu­ni­tion. He rigged his apart­ment to ex­plode on the night of the shoot­ing, hop­ing to di­vert first re­spon­ders from the Aurora theater. The home­made de­vices didn’t go off.

He sur­ren­dered meekly out­side the theater af­ter the July 20, 2012, at­tack and even­tu­ally pleaded not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity. Last month, the jury re­jected that plea, find­ing Holmes knew right from wrong when he slipped into the theater dressed head-to-toe in body ar­mor and started shoot­ing.

Holmes’ state- ap­pointed at­tor­neys blamed the mas­sacre on his schizophre­nia and psy­chotic delu­sions. They said Holmes was ob­sessed with the idea of mass killing since child­hood, and he pur­sued neu­ro­science to find out what was wrong with his brain.

Pros­e­cu­tors pointed to Holmes’ elab­o­rate plan­ning and his re­fusal to di­vulge to any­one — fam­ily, friends, psy­chi­a­trists — that he was think­ing about, and pre­par­ing for, mass mur­der.

An at­tor­ney for Holmes’ par­ents did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a call seek­ing com­ment Wed­nes­day. Holmes’ mother, Ar­lene, was the last to tes­tify dur­ing his emo­tional sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, say­ing her son feels re­morse but his men­tal ill­ness and med­i­ca­tions make it hard for him to ex­press it.

“We are very sorry this tragedy hap­pened and sorry ev­ery­one has suf­fered so much,” she tes­ti­fied.

(Left) Colorado theater shooter James Holmes ap­pears in court, with his at­tor­ney Daniel King, to be for­mally sen­tenced in Cen­ten­nial, Colorado, Wed­nes­day, Aug. 26.

(Right) Judge Car­los Samour, Jr. speaks as he sen­tences Colorado theater shooter James Holmes in Cen­ten­nial on Wed­nes­day.


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