CENTENNIAL –Prosecutors announced Monday they would seek the death penalty for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said he reached his decision after prosecutors spoke with more than 800 victims and relatives of those killed in the July 20 shooting, which left 12 dead and 58 injured.
“In this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” said Brauchler in a hearing at the Arapahoe County Courthouse.
Holmes, 25, showed no reaction, but his parents clasped hands and embraced, according to the Associated Press.
Defense attorneys had sought a deal in which Holmes would plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence without possibility of parole. The offer came a day after the state legislature defeated a bill that would have abolished capital punishment in Colorado.
Bryan Beard, a friend of slain moviegoer Alex Sullivan, said he supported the prosecution’s decision.
“My original thought was ‘thank goodness, I am so glad this is happening,’” Beard told reporters. “I’ve said this once and this is the last time I’ll say it, the only way that death will receive justice when somebody murders somebody else, is death.”
A trial date was set for Feb. 4, 2014. Given that Holmes’ guilt is not in doubt, the defense is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a plea involving a battery of psychological evaluations that could push back the trial date even further.
Chief District Court Judge William Sylvester said he would be unable to preside over the trial due to time constraints stemming from his duties as chief judge, and reassigned the case to District Court Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr.
“[T]he reality [is] that a final resolution of this case is now likely years away,” said Sylvester in his order.
Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, faces 166 charges related to his role in the massacre at the midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises.” His Aurora apartment was later found booby-trapped with homemade explosives.
Three inmates now sit on Colorado’s Death Row, all of whom were prosecuted in the 18th Judicial District. One of those, Nathan Dunlap, is awaiting an execution date after exhausting his appeals stemming from his conviction in the 1993 murder of four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora.
The death penalty is rarely sought or employed in Colorado. In the 37 years since the state reinstated capital punishment, only one inmate has been executed, Gary Lee Davis in 1997.