James Holmes Sentenced to Life In Prison

The jury did not reach a unanimous death verdict in the trial of James Holmes. He will receive life in prison without parole.

Great work by Colorado Public Defenders Tamara Brady, Daniel King and the rest of the defense team. It was an enormous uphill battle to save his life, and they did it.

Holmes agreed to plead guilty and accept a sentence of life without parole before trial, but Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler would not agree and insisted on a far more costly death penalty trial. The cost of this trial is estimated to be between $5 and $10 million. That money could have better spent elsewhere.

There are only three inmates with death sentences in Colorado. All three were charged and tried by the Arapahoe County DA's office. (Brauchler was not D.A. then.) All three are African-American. The last execution in Colorado was 18 years ago, in 1977 (Gary Davis.) The last death penalty verdict was 6 years ago (Robert Ray.) The death penalty in Colorado has been severely criticized as arbitrarily applied.


Colorado doesn't even have a "death row." Inmates sentenced to death are housed in maximum security administrative facilities at a cost of $102.88 a day, which is much higher than the cost of housing other inmates. A rare death penalty eligible trial is currently underway in Denver. Juries are currently deliberating in the guilt phase.

Original Post:

The jury in the Aurora theater shooting trial of James Holmes has reached a verdict on his sentence -- life or death. It will be announced at 5pm MDT and televised.

The jury deliberated 6.5 hours over two days in this last of of three phases of deliberation. The first two deliberations involved legal issues. The third essentially calls on the jury to make a moral decision as to whether life in prison without parole or death is the appropriate sentence.

A death verdict must be unanimous. [More...]

From the Court's proposed draft instructions for Phase 3, available here:

No juror may make a decision for the death penalty unless the juror is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that death is the appropriate sentence. Further, if all of the jurors are not unanimously convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that death is the appropriate sentence, the defendant will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The jury found Holmes guilty of 24 counts of first degree murder. They then deliberated in Phase 1 and found that the prosecution proved four aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt for each of the 24 counts.

Phase 2 of the deliberations ended on August 3 when they found beyond a reasonable doubt that the mitigating factors that exist do not outweigh the proven statutory aggravating factors with respect to each of the 24 counts.

On August 4, they began deliberations in the third and final stage. The jury was instructed that their verdicts in the first and second phase did not compel them to reach a death verdict.

A death sentence is still never mandatory or required by law.

.... Each of you must make an individual reasoned moral judgment. The exercise of your individual reasoned moral judgment must be based on the evidence and information presented during the trial and the sentencing hearing.

Each juror may consider mercy for the defendant, but mercy must be based on the evidence and information presented during the trial and the sentencing hearing. Each of the jury's final sentencing verdicts must reflect a profoundly reasoned moral response to the defendant's background, character, history, and crimes.

There is no burden of proof in Phase 3 and the jury was instructed Holmes did not have to present any evidence. But the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt still applies:

A juror may not determine that a death sentence is appropriate unless he or she is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that death is the appropriate sentence.

Thus, in Phase 3, the use of the term "beyond a reasonable doubt" refers to the level of moral certainty that an individual juror is required to have before he or she may decide, based on his or her individual reasoned moral judgment, that death is the appropriate sentence.

Reasonable doubt is defined as:

Reasonable doubt means a doubt based upon reason and common sense, which arises from a fair and rational consideration of: (1) the evidence presented in the trial and the sentencing hearing; (2) the lack of evidence presented in the trial and the sentencing hearing; or (3) any other information presented in the sentencing hearing that the Court instructs you may be considered. It is a doubt which is not a vague, speculative or imaginary doubt, but such a doubt as would cause reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.

Phase 3 is where the victim impact evidence came in. The draft instructions say:

The Court instructs you that you must not be swayed by emotion. Remember that your final sentencing verdicts must not be influenced by prejudice, bias, passion, sentiment, conjecture, public opinion or feeling, or any other irrational or arbitrary emotional response. Rather, each of you must make a reasoned moral determination as to the appropriate sentence on each count.

In another Phase 3 instruction the jury is told:

In reaching your final sentencing verdicts, you must treat the defendant as a uniquely individual human being. Further, you must not be influenced by prejudice or bias of any sort against the defendant or the prosecution, and you must not consider any public opinion or community sentiment for or against the defendant or the prosecution. Your decisions in Phase 3 of the sentencing hearing may not be the result of mere prejudice, bias, passion, sentiment, conjecture, public opinion or feeling, or any other irrational or arbitrary emotional response. Rather, each of your final sentencing verdicts must reflect your individual reasoned moral determination.

All of the court's instructions in the sentencing phase are available at no charge through the court's website here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Under these excellent instructions (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by Peter G on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 05:07:53 PM EST
    there is only one morally appropriate sentence for a person who acted -- no matter how horribly -- under the influence of severe mental illness. A civilized society does not punish the sick for exhibiting the symptoms of their sickness. That said, I am not at all confident that this is the verdict that will be rendered.

    "a civilized society" (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 05:45:16 PM EST
    - there's the rub.

    We celebrated the Holmes verdict (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by Peter G on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 11:16:36 PM EST
    by going out to see the wonderful new movie, Mr. Holmes. An acting tour de force by Ian McKellen (Gandalf, etc.) as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in retirement, keeping bees in Sussex.

    false reasoning (2.00 / 1) (#16)
    by thomas rogan on Mon Aug 10, 2015 at 10:13:20 PM EST
    "The cost of this trial is estimated to be between $5 and $10 million. That money could have better spent elsewhere."

    If Colorado did not have the death penalty on the books, then every murderer would take a case to trial instead of "accepting" an offer of life without parole, and there would be a lot more of these expensive trials.

    studies don't support your view (none / 0) (#18)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Aug 11, 2015 at 01:44:20 AM EST
    Study by the Denver University College of Law that analyzed court documents for every murder case filed in Colorado for the twelve year period from 1999 through 2010.

    Our study shows that not only are death penalty prosecutions costly compared to non-death cases, but the threat of the death penalty at the charging stage does not save costs by resulting in speedier pleas when the defendant wants to avoid the death penalty. In addition, the substantial cost of the death penalty cannot be justified by the possibility of future deterrence insofar as social scientists increasingly agree that the deterrence benefits of the death penalty are entirely speculative. In short, by compiling and analyzing original data, we show that Colorado's death penalty imposes a major cost without yielding any measurable benefits.

    Some do plead murder 1 and life without parole with no plea bargain -- Example, Austin Sigg (2013.)

    Even if the person did insist on a trial the difference is stark.

    Death penalty trial:

    On average, a death prosecution/jury trial case consumes approximately 148 days in court, not including any post-conviction proceedings or appeals. This consists of approximately 85 court days of pretrial hearings, 26 days of voir dire, 19 days of presentation of evidence at the trial to determine guilt or innocence, and an additional 21 days in court for the jury sentencing proceeding.

    Trial for Murder One, LWOP, (where person could have been charged with death penalty but were not)

    The LWOP cases required only an average of 24½ total days in court, as follows: 14 court days of pretrial hearings, 1.5 court days of voir dire, 8 court days of trial, and less than a day of court sentencing proceedings

    Read this oped by the elected District Attorney for Boulder. One of Colorado's three death cases has cost $18 million so far.

    More important than cost is the arbitrary way it's applied.  Another study that examined every case (also U of Denver, different authors)

    We discovered that while the death penalty was an option in approximately ninety two
    percent of all first degree murders, it was sought by the prosecution initially in only three percent of those killings, pursued all the way through sentencing in only one percent of those killings, and obtained in only 0.6 percent of all cases.

    These numbers compel the conclusion that Colorado's capital sentencing system fails to
    satisfy the constitutional imperative of creating clear statutory standards for distinguishing
    between the few who are executed and the many who commit murder.

    Apples and Oranges (none / 0) (#3)
    by RickyJim on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 05:51:36 PM EST
    Beyond a reasonable doubt is an inappropriate terms to use in deciding a punishment.  It is appropriate in describing the the degree of certainty one has about the truth of certain facts - roughy it would be unreasonable for someone to think, in light of the presented evidence, that the defendant didn't commit the crime.  A better criterion, in this situation, might be: "In light of your knowledge of previous death sentences given recently, would one here be out of proportion?" The reasonable doubt standard tries to make this an absolute judgment rather than a relative one, which IMHO, is ridiculous.

    Life (none / 0) (#4)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 06:34:40 PM EST
    I sort of thought it would be.

    I was not hopeful for a life (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 06:38:31 PM EST
    sentence. Reporters on local news are giving big credit to Tamara Brady's closing argument, in which she pointed out that all of the doctors who testified said he suffered from mental illness.

    For all of us, it is good (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by christinep on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 06:55:29 PM EST
    In my biased opinion, the jury did the good thing, the just & merciful thing.

    As I watch Channel 4 in the aftermath here, I see that reporter Rick Sallinger wondered aloud whether all this time & energy & anguish of the past several months could have been avoided if the DA had taken the plea offered in exchange for the same result months ago.  Other reporters are adding thoughts about whether Colorado should retain the death penalty as an option in capital cases at all; and, they alluded to a need for a broader discussion in the state.


    No real substantive reason (none / 0) (#8)
    by CaptHowdy on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 06:57:50 PM EST
    he just seemed so clearly off to me.

    Did anyone but the prosecutor (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Mr Natural on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 08:13:21 PM EST
    even pretend to believe he was sane?

    Good result (none / 0) (#6)
    by MKS on Fri Aug 07, 2015 at 06:41:29 PM EST
    He was clearly mentally ill.  Under the old McNaughton rules, he should have been declared legally insane....

    Finally, a just result.

    A juror said that 9 voted death... (none / 0) (#11)
    by magster on Sat Aug 08, 2015 at 08:50:43 AM EST
    .... 1 voted life, and two had reservations about a death sentence. The one juror's adamance the rest realized made deliberating longer unnecessary.

    Why is it (none / 0) (#12)
    by sj on Sat Aug 08, 2015 at 12:13:10 PM EST
    that "news" organizations have the WORST websites?

    "12 Angry Men" made real (none / 0) (#13)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Aug 08, 2015 at 01:20:35 PM EST
    Yes, they followed instructions (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Aug 09, 2015 at 04:44:44 PM EST
    Sentencing Instruction #3

    There is no requirement that you explain or justify to your fellow jurors why your individual reasoned moral judgment leads you to a particular decision on a count. Nevertheless, it is your duty as jurors, to consult with one another and to deliberate on all the counts.

    While you are not required to agree with the determinations, opinions, feelings, or thoughts of other jurors, you must deliberate with your fellow jurors. After deliberating, if a juror disagrees with the rest of the jurors, that disagreement must be respected by the other jurors and will be respected by the Court.

    Ultimately, each of you must decide for yourself, based on your individual reasoned moral judgment, the appropriate sentence on each count after considering and discussing with your fellow jurors the evidence and information presented in
    the proceedings and the Court's instructions of law.

    Juror #17 said they deliberated, did not know the juror's position (or any of each others positions) before starting Phase 3 of the deliberations (again, following the court's instructions that they were not to share their opinions or arrive at one before Phase 3), and that there was deliberation. One of the pro-death jurors asked for the crime scene video to be brought back so they could all watch during deliberations. It didn't sway the juror who wanted life.

    Juror #17 said Holmes' mental illness was a major factor in the position of the juror who believed life was appropriate.

    The juror who voted for life could have ended deliberations in Phase 2, had she determined that Holmes' mental illness outweighed the aggravating factors. But she didn't. All 12 jurors agreed in Phase 2 that the mitigating factors (mental illness included) did not outweigh the aggravating factors. Phase 3 called for a different determination: Now that the aggravating factors have been proven, and the jury has decided the mitigating factors do not outweigh the aggravating facts, what penalty is warranted, life or death? The jury was instructed if they had found mitigating factors in Phase 2, they had to at least consider them in Phase 3 when deciding life or death.

    The jury was allowed to consider mercy and sympathy for the defendant in Phases 2 and 3.

    It sounds like this jury followed the Court's instructions exactly. And the instructions told them not to pressure a juror with a different view, but to accept their position. Which meant when one juror expressed her firm moral decision for life, the other jurors had to accept it and deliberations are over.


    I had never previous heard of (none / 0) (#15)
    by Peter G on Sun Aug 09, 2015 at 05:20:59 PM EST
    this sort of 3-step process. It does seem to be more "pro-life" (if I may call it that) than the standard two-step process used in other death penalty states. As I understand it, the standard capital determination process consolidates Colorado's step 2 and step 3 into a single stage.

    Here is the (none / 0) (#17)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Aug 11, 2015 at 12:40:58 AM EST
    chart explaining the three phases that the Court provided to the jury at the beginning of the trial. It is different than the federal system.