'Batman' theatre gunman convicted

James Holmes
James Holmes

Insanity plea rejected; killer may face death penalty for massacre at movie screening

CENTENNIAL (Colorado) • "Batman" theatre gunman James Holmes has been found guilty on all charges - and could face the death penalty - over the 2012 massacre that left 12 dead and 70 more injured in Colorado.

Judge Carlos Samour took a full hour on Thursday to read out the verdicts relating to each of the 82 victims hit when Holmes opened fire at a packed midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in the town of Aurora, outside Denver.

The 27-year-old Holmes, dressed in a blue shirt and cream-coloured trousers with his hands in his pockets, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out.

The trial now moves into the sentencing phase, in which prosecutors will call for Holmes - who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity - to face the death penalty. Jurors will reconvene next Wednesday.

On Thursday, the jury foreman handed over a thick stack of verdict forms, representing the scale of the atrocity. In all, Holmes faced 164 charges of murder and attempted murder, and one count of possession of explosives. There was relief at the verdicts.

"I felt so much relief and closure," said Ms Jansen Young, quoted by the Denver Post. Her boyfriend Jon Blunk died trying to protect her from the bullets with his body.

"It's been a long three years and it's clearly not over," said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, but added: "While it's been difficult and emotional for everybody, in particular families, we're happy we've reached this point."

Jurors were relatively quick to reach their verdicts. They retired on Wednesday only to deliberate on whether Holmes - who has been in custody since his arrest outside the theatre - was sane when he opened fire. In the end, they concluded that Holmes was not insane.

Wrapping up the trial earlier, the prosecutor, Mr George Brauchler, ran through a blow-by-blow account of the massacre, which stunned the US and reignited its perennial debate about gun control.

Referring to the 400 people in the theatre, Mr Brauchler said: "They came in hoping to see a story of a hero dressed in black, someone who would fight insurmountable odds in the name of justice and trying to protect others.

"Instead, a different figure appeared by the screen dressed all in black. And he came there with one thing in his heart and in his mind - and that was mass murder."

But Holmes' defence lawyer, Mr Dan King, insisted his client was insane, saying: "The fact of the matter is that when Mr Holmes stepped into that theatre... he had lost touch with reality.

"You cannot divorce the mental illness from this case, or from Mr Holmes. The mental illness caused this to happen. Only the mental illness caused this to happen, and nothing else."

Mr Marcus Weaver, whose friend Rebecca Wingo was among those gunned down in the theatre, described the killings as "heinous".

"It's been an emotional ride to get to this point," Mr Weaver said. "I will never forget the silhouette of the shotgun. The sounds I heard. My friend's lifeless body."

The 49-day trial included weeks of grisly evidence and testimony from more than 250 witnesses. The jury also was shown hours of videotaped interviews of Holmes by psychiatrists for the state.

Both they and two defence psychiatrists agreed the defendant struggled with mental illness.

The state's psychiatrists, however, maintained that Holmes was sane when he carried out the rampage.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2015, with the headline ''Batman' theatre gunman convicted'. Print Edition | Subscribe