Defense Tries to Save|Mass Murderer’s Life

DENVER (CN) – After the jury on Thursday found that mass murderer James Holmes meets the criteria to be sentenced to death, his attorneys began presenting witnesses from his childhood to try to save his life.
     “We, the jury, do unanimously find that the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of at least one of the alleged aggravating factors with respect to this count of murder in the first degree,” Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour Jr. read at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
     The second phase of sentencing then began for Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded 70 at the midnight premiere of a Batman movie a Century 16 theater on July 20, 2012. His public defenders began by trying to humanize him, with testimonies that illustrate his social awkwardness and early manifestations of schizoaffective illness.
     The only alternatives for the nine-woman, three-man jury are to sentence Holmes to death or to life in prison.
     Public defender Rebekka Higgs called Holmes’ former cross country coach Lori Godwin to the stand, and asked her about the days when Holmes attended Westview High School in San Diego.
     Godwin said that while he never made trouble, Holmes was “different.”
     “He was always on the outside, he was more of a shadow,” Godwin said. “If I didn’t take role, I probably wouldn’t have known he was there. He just was there.”
     Godwin said that Holmes, whom she knew as Jimmy, was “very quiet, eyes down, head down, basically, ‘I can see you, but please don’t talk to me.’
     “He didn’t like any attention on him at all,” she said. “Kind of in his own little world. He was part of us but not part of us.”
     Higgs showed Godwin a photo of the cross country team and asked Godwin to explain the background.
     “When we took pictures he didn’t really want to be in them,” Godwin said. “He didn’t want to be close to anyone. We kind of touch shoulders and whatnot, and he’d stand back. I was probably pretty stern with him.”
     Godwin concluded by testifying that she “never saw Jimmy smile.”
     The defense called Claire Vincent, who taught Holmes piano for 3½ years. Vincent began teaching him when he was nearly 10. She hadn’t seen Holmes since the ’90’s, and said she was sad when Holmes and his family moved.
     “I was disappointed because he was a good student and I thought he had potential,” Vincent said. “We always hate to lose good students. I remember regretting that they were moving.”
     Sandy Becker was a neighbor who lived near Holmes when he was in his early elementary school years.
     “It was a very family oriented neighborhood,” Becker said. “Lots of kids in it. They all hung out together.”
     Becker said she remembered Holmes as “one of the kids that hung out with all the other kids.”
     One of Holmes’s teachers at Westview High School, Maurice Scruggs, read a letter of recommendation he wrote for a summer internship for which Holmes applied at the end of his junior year.
     “He is not only bright and hardworking, he takes pleasure in the process of discovery, a clear, thoughtful writer,” Scruggs read to the jury. “He was always stretching the bounds of his knowledge. I did not always agree with him, but I always respected his thinking.”
     At the end of the letter, Scruggs added that he thought Holmes was not only smart, but also “a lot of fun.”
     “He has an odd, but very entertaining sense of humor,” Scruggs concluded.
     The defense called Holmes’ former band teacher James Posteraro, who said the trumpet player was always “respectful” and a “good boy.”
     They called Kevin Wright, a peer who worked with Holmes as a camp counselor at Camp Max Straus in California. Wright said that while Holmes was both taciturn and “goofy,” and that there were never any problems working with him.
     Holmes’s attorneys said they will try to finish this portion of the sentencing phase by Tuesday. Court was to resume Friday morning with more witnesses.

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