Centennial, Colorado: A Colorado jury sentenced movie rampage gunman James Holmes to life in prison on Friday, rejecting the death penalty for the 27-year-old who entered a midnight showing of a Batman film wearing a gas mask, helmet and body armour and shot dead a dozen people.
After less than a day of deliberations, and in a surprise to many legal experts and those in the packed courtroom, the jurors were not unanimous on a death sentence for Holmes. They found him guilty last month on all counts for his July 20, 2012 massacre. Seventy people were also wounded.
Holmes showed no reaction. The former neuroscience graduate student stared straight ahead with his hands in his pockets as the judge read out the forms.
The verdict brings to an end an often-delayed, lengthy, and high-profile trial just a little more than three years after his rampage in a suburban Denver multiplex put a spotlight on gun control, mental illness and security in public spaces.
Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was murdered by Holmes, commiserated outside the courtroom after the verdict with a wheelchair-bound survivor of the rampage, Caleb Medley.
"Justice is not served. Sorry, Caleb," she said. As two members of Holmes' court-appointed defence team walked past, Phillips said: "I wonder how it feels to save the life of a mass murderer? Good job."
Moments earlier, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour read that the panel had been unable to agree, and that they understood Holmes would serve life as a result.
They would have had to be unanimous for a death penalty to be imposed. The defence had said he suffered from schizophrenia and was not in control of his actions.
In his speech to the jury, District Attorney George Brauchler had argued that justice for Holmes meant execution for the "horror and evil" he wrought during his attack on the screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora.
During the trial, dozens of wounded survivors testified about how they had tried to hide from the gunman's hail of bullets, some of them steel-penetrating rounds, or stumbled over the bodies of loved ones as they tried to flee.
Prosecutors said Holmes aimed to slaughter all 400 theatre goers. But he failed to kill more, they said, in part because a drum magazine he had bought to boost his firepower jammed.
The proceedings against Holmes began in late April and reached penalty phase closing arguments on Thursday after 60 days of trial, 306 witnesses, and the introduction of nearly 2,700 pieces of evidence.
No Record, Mental Illness
Defence lawyer Tamara Brady had stressed that Holmes had no previous criminal record. She had asked jurors whether they were ready to sign the death warrant of a mentally ill person and said they would have to live with the decision for the rest of their lives.
While the jury rejected Holmes' plea of insanity, Brady said all the doctors the panel had heard from in court had agreed that he was seriously mentally ill.
Holmes had remained mostly expressionless throughout the trial, occasionally turning to look when a photograph of himself appears on a court television.
The defence said his "aloof or distracted" demeanour was caused by anti-psychosis drugs that treat, but do not cure, his mental illness.
He had been seeing a school psychiatrist and dropped out of a graduate programme at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora just weeks before the attack.
Holmes bought a ticket for the screening before slipping out to his car behind the building and changing into what prosecutors called a "kill suit" of ballistic helmet, gas mask, and head-to-toe body armour.
He returned and threw a teargas canister into the theatre, then opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, pump action shotgun and pistol. The police arrested Holmes outside. When they asked if he had an accomplice, he replied: "No, it's just me."
He had declined to testify in his own defence.
But the panel did watch more than 22 hours of Holmes speaking to a court-appointed psychiatrist in a videotaped sanity examination.
In the video, Holmes confirmed most of the details of the mass shooting, including his weapons purchases and his plan to draw police and other first responders away from the theatre by rigging his apartment with homemade explosives.
The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning, Samour granted their request for a television and DVD player so they could re-watch a 45-minute crime scene video from the theatre that was played during the trial.
© Thomson Reuters 2015