Theater attack judge defends trial before sentencing

James Holmes appears in court to be formally sentenced, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. Victims and their families were given the opportunity to speak about the shooting and its effects on their lives. The formal sentencing began Monday at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The judge in the Colorado theater shootings case delayed James Holmes’ formal sentencing for more than a half-hour Wednesday while he disputed complaints that the trial was a waste of time and again defended the integrity of the justice system.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. was preparing to sentence Holmes to life in prison without parole for the murders of 12 people and up to 3,318 additional years for attempted murder and an explosives conviction.

But he started the hearing with a long defense of the trial, pointing out that it gave family members an opportunity to tell the world about their slain loved ones and provided survivors the chance to talk about their ordeal.

He also said the trial was fair, even if some victims were disappointed that Holmes didn’t get the death penalty.

“I believe in the system,” Samour said. “I said that before, and I’ll say it again. I believe in the system.”

Samour also disputed some victims’ suggestion that Holmes would have an easy life behind bars, noting prison is harsh and restrictive.

The judge then launched a withering condemnation of Holmes, saying he quit on his friends, his family and his life, and then went further. “He decided if he was quitting, he was going to take people with him.”

The formal sentencing followed two days of testimony from victims about the impact the shootings had on them, and a statement from Holmes’ mother, Arlene, that her son feels remorse for his deadly attack on a Colorado movie theater.

She said his mental illness and medications make it hard for him to express it.

“We know that is very, very hard for people to see,” Arlene Holmes testified during her son’s final sentencing hearing. “We cannot feel the depths of your pain. We can only listen to everything you have expressed, and we pray for you… We are very sorry this tragedy happened, and sorry everyone has suffered so much.”

With her husband, Robert, by her side, she was the final witness to take the lectern Tuesday, capping a sentencing hearing where more than 100 victims and survivors testified about the searing physical and emotional scars the 2012 shooting has left.

Jurors rejected Holmes’ insanity plea, convicting him of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 others when he opened fire on a packed theater in suburban Denver on July 20, 2012. Prosecutors have said the jury was divided on the sentence, with 11 favoring death and one favoring life without parole. Under Colorado law, jurors must be unanimous to impose the death penalty, so Holmes automatically got a life sentence.

Defense attorney Daniel King said Tuesday Holmes will not appeal his conviction, sparing victims the possibility of another emotionally wrenching trial.

Holmes’ sentencing hearing was largely symbolic but gave scores of victims an unprecedented chance to vent their feelings to the judge. They told him of flashbacks and nightmares, of relentless survivor’s guilt and enduring physical pain.

FBI Special Agent Jeremy Phelps said he will never forget the sounds and smells of chaos when he stepped inside the theater where bodies lay amid popcorn and spent bullet shells.

“These innocent victims were there to enjoy a movie, and one guy decided human life meant nothing,” said Aurora police Detective Craig Appel, who was among the first to interview Holmes. He and other detectives, hardened by years of investigations, still struggle to understand the massacre. “I had to think, what kind of a person could hurt so many people? Someone with no regard for human life, only for himself. It’s hard to understand.”

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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