Prosecution gets last word in Aurora theater shooting trial

Judge Carlos Samour told the Aurora theater trial audience to go outside to cry.

Emotional outbursts are prohibited in the courtroom, and the man who has presided over the trial of James Holmes for the past 11 weeks knew Tuesday’s closing arguments would be difficult for victims of the 2012 shooting and their families. But both sides’ arguments were also fiery, argumentative and intensely focused on the meaning of legal sanity.

As expected, prosecutor George Brauchler’s presentation was both animated and heart wrenching. The DA paid tribute to all 12 victims of the shooting by displaying their photos across the courtroom’s TV screens. He also argued fiercely that Holmes was sane on July 20, 2012, the night he opened fire on the crowded Century 16 movie theater.

Brauchler recalled two state-appointed psychiatrists, Dr. William Reid and Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, who both found the defendant mentally ill but criminally sane. He reminded jurors that Holmes planned his attack meticulously over more than two months.

He stressed that, regardless of his personal desires or beliefs, Holmes knew homicide was wrong according to society’s standard of morality — a key component of Colorado’s insanity defense statute.

“The law doesn’t care what he thinks is right or wrong. It cares whether he thinks that society thinks it’s right or wrong,” Brauchler said.

Public defender Dan King, as he did during opening statements, focused on the defendant’s inability to control his behavior due to severe mental illness. King acknowledged that Holmes carried out the gruesome theater attack. But when he did so, King argued, Holmes was in the depths of a psychotic episode that had taken control of his mind.

King recalled Holmes’ history of invasive homicidal thoughts and multiple attempts at therapy. He again walked jurors through the defendant’s bizarre prison behavior in November 2012, months after the shooting, in an attempt to show that he was psychotic.

On the subject of the insanity defense, King pointed out that Holmes’ knowledge of the illegality of his actions was irrelevant. “He knew what he was doing was legally wrong but that’s not the test,” he said. “Illegal is not the standard in Colorado.”

Brauchler, who under state law is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not insane at the time of the shooting, spoke last.

He asked jurors to remember the victims of the tragedy. “This guy gets held accountable. That’s what the evidence says,” Brauchler said. “So do court-appointed doctors.”

He pointed aggressively at Holmes. “Sane. Sane. Sane. Guilty,” he said.

The 12 deliberating jurors will arrive at the courthouse Wednesday morning to begin discussing their verdict. Samour stressed repeatedly that they have no time limit.


Photo credit: Michael Coghlan, Creative Commons, Flickr