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National

Testimony: Parents Surprised Their Son Was Aurora Theater Gunman

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Before deciding whether to approve the death penalty for James Holmes, the members of a jury listened. They listened to witnesses in the last phase of his trial for killing a dozen people at an Aurora Colorado theater.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And the final witness was the mother of the gunman. Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio was listening too.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Arlene Holmes took the stand, sitting just 10 feet from her son in court. She told the jury he was a kind and thoughtful child.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

ARLENE HOLMES: He never harmed anyone, ever - ever, until July 20, 2012.

MARKUS: She said he was socially awkward growing up, always did well in school, liked to play video games - maybe a bit too much - but otherwise was normal. She said she still loved him and that he's mentally ill.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

A. HOLMES: Schizophrenia chose him. He didn't choose it. And I still love my son.

MARKUS: After James Holmes failed out of grad school and was dumped by his girlfriend, he told his psychiatrist he wanted to kill people. His mother was asked what she would have done had the psychiatrist told her that.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

A. HOLMES: I would have been crawling on all fours to get to him. He's never said that he wanted to kill people. She didn't - she didn't - she didn't tell me. She didn't tell me.

MARKUS: Earlier, Robert Holmes, the defendant's father, testified that when he first heard about the attack, he thought his son must have been shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You thought that Jim was the victim?

ROBERT HOLMES: Yeah, I had never - it didn't occur to me that he would be the shooter.

MARKUS: He and others often referred to the defendant as Jimmy during testimony. And many photos and family videos were shown to the jury. Former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser says Holmes's attorneys are attempting to humanize him.

KAREN STEINHAUSER: And it is a very tall task in light of the horrific nature of this crime.

MARKUS: The sentencing hearing, in which jurors weigh death or life in prison for James Holmes, continues today. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.