Aurora case raises larger is­sues

Shoot­ing trial is set to open, along with ques­tions about death penalty, men­tal ill­ness and fo­cus on killer.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Maria L. La Ganga maria.la­ganga@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mar­i­ala­ganga

Eirz Scott does not plan to at­tend the trial un­less her son, Jarell Brooks, is called to tes­tify. But she knows how she wants the lengthy legal pro­ceed­ing to end.

A bul­let tore a chunk out of her boy’s thigh while he was help­ing a young fam­ily es­cape from the gun­man on that aw­ful sum­mer night. Brooks is 22 now, at­tend­ing col­lege. He wants to be an at­tor­ney. Not a hero. Not a vic­tim. He wants to move on.

James E. Holmes, 27, has been charged with 166 counts in the largest mass shoot­ing on Amer­i­can soil, a 2012 ram­page in a sub­ur­ban Den­ver theater that killed 12 movie­go­ers and in­jured 70, Brooks among them.

Open­ing state­ments in Holmes’ trial are sched­uled to begin Mon­day, nearly three years af­ter the massacre. It is way too soon for some vic­tims, who must brace them­selves to re­live the hor­ror, to face their at­tacker across a crowded court­room. In some ways, though, it can’t come soon enough. They want the pain to end. They want jus­tice.

“I hope he gets the max­i­mum penalty that is nec­es­sary for him,” Scott said. When asked if she meant that Holmes should die by lethal in­jec­tion, she thought for just a mo­ment be­fore re­spond­ing. “I would have to say yes.”

Tom Teves’ son Alex, 24, had just earned his mas­ter’s de­gree in coun­sel­ing psy­chol­ogy when he was killed shield­ing his girl­friend from the hail of bul­lets in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater. To­day, Alex’s ashes are in an urn in his par­ents’ home. On Mon­day, Teves will be in the court­room.

But the griev­ing fa­ther re­fuses to be in­ter­viewed for any story that in­cludes the name and like­ness of the man who killed his son. He and his wife, Caren, sent a let­ter last week to 150 me­dia ex­ec­u­tives — in­clud­ing ed­i­tors at the Los An­ge­les Times — ask­ing them to change the way mass mur­ders are cov­ered.

“Re­move or limit the name and like­ness of the shooter, ex­cept for ini­tial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and when the al­leged as­sailant is still at large,” the Teveses wrote in a let­ter signed by fam­ily mem­bers and vic­tims from what they de­scribe as “nine of the worst mass shoot­ings in U.S. his­tory.” “El­e­vate the names and like­ness of all vic­tims killed.”

Anita Busch is part of the Teveses’ “No No­to­ri­ety” cam­paign. Her cousin, Micayla C. Medek, died in Theater 9 of the Cen­tury 16 mul­ti­plex on July 20, 2012, dur­ing a mid­night screen­ing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Medek was 23. She was a “sand­wich artist” at Sub­way. She loved Hello Kitty and was sav­ing money to travel to In­dia.

Busch helped es­tab­lish the Na­tional Com­pas­sion Fund/Aurora, which pledges that all money do­nated will go to the vic­tims: Ev­ery­one in Theater 9, where a black­clad Holmes tossed gas can­is­ters and un­leashed a bar­rage of bul­lets, and those in Theater 8 who were in­jured when shots tore through the wall.

“Peo­ple in Amer­ica have no idea how bad it is be­hind the scenes af­ter a mass shoot­ing,” said Busch, a for­mer Los An­ge­les Times re­porter who says she will be in court when the trial be­gins. “The cam­eras will go. But the pain never leaves. Peo­ple need help still.

“Amer­ica doesn’t un­der­stand,” she said.

A record 9,000 sum­monses were mailed out in an ef­fort to build a jury of 24 — 12 ju­rors and 12 al­ter­nates — for the trial, which is ex­pected to last un­til La­bor Day and be­come a ref­er­en­dum on the death penalty and how so­ci­ety han­dles men­tal ill­ness.

There is no ques­tion that the one­time neu­ro­science grad­u­ate stu­dent pulled the trig­ger on that bloody sum­mer night. He was ar­rested out­side the theater with an AR-15 as­sault-style ri­fle, a Rem­ing­ton shot­gun and a Glock pis­tol. He had booby­trapped his apart­ment. His hair was died bright or­ange. He said he was the Joker, of Bat­man fame.

Two years ago, Holmes’ public de­fend­ers made a stand­ing of­fer for their client to plead guilty to caus­ing the deaths and in­juries if he could serve a life sen­tence in pri­son with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role.

But pros­e­cu­tors said they would seek the death penalty, and Holmes pleaded not guilty by rea­son of insanity. In Colorado, as in a few other states, the bur­den of proof lies with the dis­trict at­tor­ney, who must now prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that Holmes was sane at the time of the ram­page.

Ju­rors must de­cide whether Holmes is guilty, not guilty or not guilty by rea­son of insanity. If he is found guilty, they must de­cide whether he will be put to death.

Craig Sil­ver­man, a for­mer Den­ver chief deputy dis­trict at­tor­ney who is now in pri­vate prac­tice, said much of the ev­i­dence re­vealed so far could ben­e­fit the pros­e­cu­tion, in­clud­ing what he de­scribed as Holmes’ “pre­med­i­ta­tion on steroids.”

Af­ter he failed his grad­u­ate oral boards at the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado Den­ver, Holmes threat­ened a pro­fes­sor, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, and be­gan “a de­tailed and com­plex plan to ob­tain firearms, ammunition, a tear-gas grenade, body ar­mor, a gas mask and a bal­lis­tic hel­met.”

He also set up a pro­file on an adult web­site ask­ing, “Will you visit me in pri­son?” That, Sil­ver­man said, “is a dy­na­mite piece of ev­i­dence.”

But Karen Steinhauser, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver’s Sturm Col­lege of Law and a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, said the de­fense would ar­gue that “the plan­ning is all part of his se­vere men­tal ill­ness, that it rises to the level of legal insanity and shows that he did not know the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong.”

“I want to hear what the ex­perts have to say — the dif­fer­ing opin­ions with re­gards to san­ity, what their ba­sis is,” Steinhauser said. “This case will come down to a battle of the ex­perts.”

Yet some of the most pow­er­ful tes­ti­mony will prob­a­bly come from the vic­tims, who both dread the trial and wel­come it.

Among the first to tes­tify will be Joshua Nowlan, who was shot through his right arm and left leg. Nowlan has had mul­ti­ple surg­eries. A skin graft moved a tat­too from his left shoul­der blade onto his in­jured arm. He has sued the theater’s par­ent com­pany.

“I’m not ready to talk about it,” Nowlan said. And yet, he added, “I tes­tify Tues­day.”

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

A ME­MO­RIAL to the vic­tims sprang up near the sub­ur­ban Den­ver movie theater af­ter the 2012 attack.

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