Aurora Theater Gunman Trial Begins Monday

     DENVER (CN) – Nearly three years after James Holmes allegedly killed 12 moviegoers and injured 70 more at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., jurors on Monday will hearing opening statements in his murder trial.
     Holmes, now 27, is being tried on more than 160 counts, including murder, attempted murder and possession of explosive or incendiary devices.
     The former University of Colorado graduate student has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors are expected to counter that Holmes methodically planned the attack for weeks, and rigged his apartment to explode to injure even more people as they investigated the shooting.
     A jury of 11 women and one man will decide Holmes’ fate – the death penalty or a life sentence in prison.
     While Holmes’ bright mop of Joker-inspired hair is no more – in his most recent pre-trial court appearances he has sported his natural brown hair and a beard – victims and the families of the deceased will re-live what prosecutors have called “a roller coaster through the worst haunted house you can imagine.”
     The start of the trial has been delayed multiple times, and was finally settled after a four-month juror selection process, which involved approximately 9,000 interviews of potential candidates.
     The impending trial has also fueled a return to the death penalty debate in Colorado, where capital punishment is legal, but rare. Colorado’s most recent death penalty conviction was Robert Ray’s in 2009. The state has executed only one person, Gary Lee Davis, a rapist and murderer, since the death penalty was reinstated in Colorado in 1975.
     Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, the District Attorney prosecuting Holmes, revealed in 2013 that he was seeking the death penalty with a short but swift conclusion: “For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.”
     Many, however, are concerned that a death penalty trial and the inevitable appeals that would follow a conviction, would only keep Holmes in the public eye, potentially for decades.
     “We want justice, but at the same time we want closure,” said Peter Burns, a coworker and friend of Jessica Ghawi, one of the twelve killed during Holmes’ rampage. “Do we ever really get closure 17 years down the road?”
     Holmes’ mother has openly pleaded for mercy for her son, citing his mental illness.
     “We understand that if our son is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could go to an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill for the remainder of his life,” James and Arlene Holmes wrote in a public letter published by the Denver Post. “This result would prevent any future harm to him and others.
     “We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” they wrote.
     In addition to dealing with huge issues, the trial is expected to be large in terms of its financial scale as well. Pre-trail legal proceedings and aid for Holmes’ victims have reportedly already cost the state’s taxpayers $7 million, although Holmes’ public defenders have refused to release any exact numbers, citing attorney-client privilege.
     “This killer has taken enough from our community,” said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Denver. “We should at least have the right to know what we are spending on him.”
     The prosecution is expected to present 150 exhibits of evidence and a 45-minute crime scene video as the trial progresses. Brauchler declined to comment further on the trial.
     Public defender Tamara Brady could not be immediately reached for comment.

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