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National

Jury Rejects Insanity Defense For Theater Shooter, Who May Get Death Penalty

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A jury in Colorado did not deliberate long, just a day and a half. Then they delivered a guilty verdict for James Holmes. He was the shooter in Aurora, Colo. three years ago. He came to the midnight premiere of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises." And he carried out a massacre, killing 12 people, injuring 70 more. The jury rejected his claim of insanity. From Colorado Public Radio, Ben Markus reports.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: On the eve of the three-year anniversary of the shooting, the gunman was summoned to the courtroom. The jury had reached its verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

CARLOS SAMOUR: All right, would the defendant please stand for the reading of the verdicts?

MARKUS: The courtroom was tense as Judge Carlos Samour opened the envelope from the jury. Families of the dead were in the gallery. Many of the injured who testified in the trial were there too.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

SAMOUR: Verdict form count one, murder in the first degree after deliberation, Jonathan Blunk. We the jury find the defendant, James Eagen Holmes, guilty of murder in the first degree after deliberation.

MARKUS: The families wept as the judge read the verdicts. Some jurors wiped away tears too.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

SAMOUR: Count two, murder in the first degree after deliberation, Alexander Boik. We the jury find the defendant, James Eagen Holmes, guilty.

MARKUS: A mixture of sadness and relief swept through the families in the courtroom as it was immediately apparent that Holmes's insanity defense had failed. Holmes stood nearly motionless with his hands in his pockets as the verdicts were read. His mother and father bowed their heads. It took the judge an hour to read through all 165 counts of murder and attempted murder. Outside the courtroom, a rain storm had just passed, and a bright rainbow formed in the background. Jansen Young stood in front of dozens of TV cameras. Her boyfriend, Jonathan Blunk, died shielding her from the bullets. Young was shocked at how quickly the jury returned a verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANSEN YOUNG: I felt so much relief. I just feel closure and a weight lifted that I didn't even know was there.

MARKUS: The trial lasted three months. More than 250 witnesses took the stand. Psychiatric experts with differing opinions on Holmes's sanity testified. Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the theater, was pleased that the jury found him sane and guilty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDY PHILLIPS: We're very happy that this animal, this monster, will never see the light of day.

MARKUS: The question now is, will Holmes get the death penalty? Families of victims seem split. Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, died after being shot in the heart, was unequivocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM SULLIVAN: I hope I can do everything I can to see that this guy's Colorado privileges are taken away, that he no longer gets to breathe the sweet air us Coloradans get to breathe anymore.

MARKUS: But Tom Teves, who also had a son named Alex die in the theater, said he didn't care.

TOM TEVES: All I care is that he wasn't back on the street to kill somebody else's kid 'cause you know what? It sucks to have your kid dead. It sucks, and it'll never stop sucking.

MARKUS: And while he's pleased with the verdict, he said it couldn't bring his son, Alex, back. That sentiment was echoed by Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and his friend Rebecca Wingo killed sitting next to him in the theater.

MARCUS WEAVER: We'll never forget what happened in the wee hours of July 20 at the hands of the shooter. And so that's the painful part.

MARKUS: Jurors have a few days off. They return to the courtroom on Wednesday for the sentencing phase, which is expected to last weeks. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.