Verdict Reached In Aurora, Colo., Theater Shooting | KUOW News and Information

Verdict Reached In Aurora, Colo., Theater Shooting

Jul 16, 2015
Originally published on July 16, 2015 5:04 pm
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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're waiting this afternoon to learn the fate of James Holmes. He's the gunman who killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater three years ago. After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury says it has reached a verdict. It will be read later today. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee joins us now from Denver. And Megan, remind us the scope of the charges that the jury's considering.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Well, there are more than 150 total - two counts of first degree murder for each of the 12 people Holmes killed and two counts of attempted murder for each person who was wounded in the theater and in the neighboring theater. There are also some explosives charges for booby traps Holmes left in his apartment. He constructed these elaborate homemade bombs that he hoped would distract police from responding to the theater attack. They didn't go off, but he has been charged for those as well.

CORNISH: And tell us about the defense, the attorneys for James Holmes. They argue that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. What did the jury have to consider when weighing that argument?

VERLEE: Well, they had to look at whether he had a mental condition so severe that he'd lost touch with reality and whether he didn't know the things that he was doing during the attack were morally wrong. And that's the crux because experts for both the defense and the prosecution agree Holmes suffers from mental illness, likely some type of schizophrenic disorder. But the question is was it severe enough during the attack and for the months of planning that led up to it to meet that bar of not guilty by reason of insanity. And that's what the jury had to decide.

CORNISH: Now, this was a crime that was covered in news around the world. Remind us what was learned about Holmes himself during the trail.

VERLEE: Well, a lot. First, both sides tried to take us inside his mind during the months leading up. Prosecutors went through the elaborate planning of this attack, months that Holmes spent spacing out the purchases of weapons and ammunition and other equipment. And the planning he put into it - for instance, we learned he did a great deal of reconnaissance at that multiplex theater. He saw movies in different theaters to pick the one where he thought he'd have the greatest tactical advantage. And we learned about his preparations for that diversion. I mentioned the bomb in his apartment.

And of course, both - attorneys on both sides tried to give us a glimpse into his mind. Prosecutors tried to paint the picture of a man who was very self-centered and angry over failed relationships and the fact that he was flunking out of this very difficult graduate neuroscience program and who had decided that he was going to commit this act for notoriety.

And the defense argued that Holmes is a very sick person, one who showed symptoms of schizophrenia for years and that the stresses that prosecutors claimed were motives were actually just triggers for a complete psychotic breakdown at the time of the attack. And they showed a lot of video of what he looked like in custody after the attack and sort of the ways in which he manifested a severe mental illness.

CORNISH: Short time left here, but help us understand, depending on what the jury announces this afternoon, what's next for James Holmes.

VERLEE: If he's found not guilty by reason of insanity, he'll go to the Colorado State Mental Hospital in Pueblo, potentially for the rest of his life. But if the jury rejects that insanity defense, they're likely to find him guilty on most or all accounts since he didn't dispute doing these acts. And if that's the case, the trial will enter a penalty phase, and this jury will now have to - will then consider whether to give him death or life without parole.

CORNISH: That's Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee. She joined us from Denver. Thank you for your reporting.

VERLEE: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.