Carnage Threads Opening of Colorado Gunman’s Trial

     DENVER (CN) – As though crafting the opening scene for a film where the tragedy occurred, the prosecutor in the Aurora mass-shooting trial began his opening statement Monday by showing jurors an image of a bloody movie theater door and playing a 911 call from the shooting.
     Gunshots from one of the four weapons admitted shooter James Holmes brought into Century 16’s Theater 9 can be heard in the background of the sound byte.
     The Arapahoe County Justice Center where Holmes, 27, is being tried sits just 13 miles away from the site of the July 20, 2012, rampage at the premier of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.”
     With 12 dead and dozens wounded, Holmes faces more than 160 counts, including murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and could face the death penalty if the trial that began Monday ends in a conviction.
     After the clip of the 911 call ended, District Attorney George Brauchler let the sound of the line going dead hang in the air for a short moment.
     “Four hundred people came into a box-like theater to be entertained,” Brauchler said, “and one person came to slaughter them.”
     Continuing the movie-like theme of his statement, Brauchler spent two hours detailing Holmes’ life before and after that fatal night, pausing every few minutes to give a profile on a victim of the shooting.
     He featured the likes of Gordon Cowden, the single father who died in one shot; AJ Boik, who took 14 bullets directly to his brain; and John Larimer, whose friends tried to pull him out of the theater as the shots rang out, only to leave him propped against the steps when they realized he was dead.
     While those stories drew tears from several people in the courtroom, Brauchler’s true mission in the trial is to undermine defense claims that Holmes, who carried out the shooting while dressed as Batman villain Joker, is schizophrenic.
     Citing contradictory statements Holmes gave, Brauchler mentioned that some doctors have suggested the defendant might be lying. Two psychiatric exams actually found the gunman, a former doctoral student, to be sane, Brauchler added.
     “These two experts considered everything,” Brauchler explained. “Both say the same thing: That guy was sane when he tried to murder 70 people.
     “He made so many victims, that if I [talked for] one minute per victim, I’d be here for an hour and a half.”
     When it was the defense’s turn to deliver opening remarks, public defender Daniel King stood in front of the jury box, holding James Holmes’ notebook. He immediately quoted from it, citing convoluted and outlandish statements in which Holmes denied any difference between life and death, considered the absence of value in human life, and extolled his theory of “truth by violence.”
     “When James Holmes stepped into that theater, he was insane,” King said, pointedly placing Holmes’ notebook back on the desk in front of him. “His mind had been overcome by a disease of the brain. His perception of reality was so skewed, was so malformed, that he no longer lived in the reality we live in.”
     King and another defense attorney for Holmes, Katherine Spengler, spent their own two-hour slot explaining the extent of Holmes’ schizophrenic behavior, citing early childhood instances of suicidal thoughts, and a pervasive feeling of isolation that only got worse with age. They also detailed three of Holmes’ immediate family members who had also been diagnosed with various kinds of psychoses, including schizophrenia.
     Holmes’ attorneys suggested that an insanity plea was the only real option – especially when 20 doctors who had extensively studied Holmes all came to the conclusion that he had some form of schizophrenia.
     “Even as a child, he thought there was something wrong with his mind, which is why he wanted to study neuroscience,” Spengler said. “It’s the history – it’s the timeline – that’s so critical.”
     “Commanded by intrusive, unwanted thoughts since he was a sophomore in high school – he was compelled to act,” King said. “There was no choice to be made. This is about a brain disease, and the power of psychotic delusion.”
     The argument quickly boiled down to the crux of the trial – that the death penalty is not an option for someone who truly didn’t know that they had done something wrong.
     Brauchler adamantly insisted, however, that this was not the case when it came to James Holmes.
     “I am going to ask you to reject that man’s claim that he didn’t know right from wrong,” Brauchler finished. “I’m going to ask you to hold him accountable for the murder of 12 people.”
     Judge Carlos Samour Jr., who is presiding over the case, was also concerned about juror protection, as the 24 jurors chosen (12 to deliberate, and 12 to act as alternates) had already gone through a strict and difficult selection process.
     In his remarks to the jurors at the initial hearing, Samour detailed the extra privacy orders he had put in place to protect the individuals who would be embroiled in the controversial trial for a least three to four months, so they wouldn’t have to worry about their identities being leaked, and could focus on trying Holmes in a comprehensive and fair way.
     It was not lost on King that this will not be a simple feat.
     “Neither sympathy nor prejudice may affect your decision, and I don’t know how you’re going to do that,” King concluded. “But that’s your task.”
     The trial is expected to last until September.

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