Three years after James Holmes stormed a theater in Aurora, Colorado, killed 12 people and wounded 70 more, a jury sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole. By sparing Holmes the death penalty, the jury followed a national trend of diminishing the capital punishment's role in American criminal justice.
The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for less than a day before reaching their verdict. Only a unanimous jury can impose a death sentence, meaning only one juror would have been needed to spare Holmes’ life. The jury was not polled after the sentences were announced.
A Denver Post poll found Coloradans supported the death penalty for Holmes by a 2-to-1 margin. Despite public support for capital punishment, Colorado rarely uses the death penalty: Three defendants sit on the state’s death row; the last execution took place in 1997.
Had Holmes been sentenced to death, his case likely would have languished in the appellate system for years or even decades. Central to his defense strategy were well-documented claims of mental illness, though prosecutors disputed the extent of his illness and the role it played on the night he attacked the theater. During closing statements in the penalty phase, Holmes’ defense counsel Tamara Brady cited the convicted shooter’s mental illness and urged jurors to spare his life.