Aurora Shooter James Eagan Holmes Found Guilty; Hank Brennan Explains Sentencing Phase

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James Eagan Holmes, former doctoral student, has been found guilty in the Aurora movie theater attack that left 12 dead and more than 58 injured as he stormed, in paramilitary fashion, the midnight showing of the film, The Dark Knight Rises.

Holmes, who entered a plea of Not Guilty by Reasons of Insanity, sat stoic through much of the of testimony barely acknowledging his situation or surroundings. His initial shock orange hair replaced with a full grown natural brown beard.

Admitting his role in the shooting, Holmes, also discussed a fascination with killing and death in court appointed psychological testing. Prior to Aurora, he had meticulously planned an event that would inflict mass casualty and injury.

The theater was a byproduct of the planning. Gaining access to the exits located on either side of the screens, Holmes hide additional weapons. He walked in loaded, so much so that those in the front, who survived, believed it was part of a marketing plan from the studios.

Holmes tossed a smoker bomb into the crowd, with the intent of zeroing in on the individuals who in a natural reactionary response, would rise to escape, with night vision goggles he zeroed in on from a stationary position, moving only the weapon, spraying the crowd. Those who stayed low or fell to the ground had the greatest chance of escaping.

Victims and Survivors

Victim testimony ended the 11 week trial with all stories, recounting heroism, last moments, and recovery, powerful and gripping. None more so than Ashley Moser, at the time pregnant with a second child, she was attending the midnight screening with her six year old daughter, Veronica. Both children, her daughter and unborn child, were murdered as a result of Holmes reign of terror. She is now a quadriplegic.

Twelve people were shot dead. Ten died at the scene and two more in local hospitals. Three of the victims, Jonathan Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alexander Teves, died protecting their girlfriends. 

They are: Jonathan Blunk, age 26, shot twice in the chest (fatally) and head, Alexander J. Boik, age 18, shotgunned once in the head (fatally), chest, and shoulder, Jesse Childress, age 29, shotgunned once in the torso (fatally), both legs, and right arm, Gordon Cowden, age 51, shot once in the chest, Jessica Ghawi, age 24, shot six times, four in the torso and limbs and once in the head (fatally), John Larimer, age 27, shot twice in the chest and abdomen (both fatally), Matt McQuinn, age 27, shot nine times, including in the chest and neck (both fatally), Micayla Medek, age 23, shot once in the chest, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6, shot four times, including in the chest (fatally), limbs, and lower right side, Alex Sullivan, age 27, shot once in the chest, Alexander C. Teves, age 24, shot once in the head.

Sentencing - Hank Brennan, Legal Scholar, Explains the Sentencing Phase

The sentencing phase of the trail will begin Wednesday, July 22, 2015 as the same set of jurors will return to debate the factors in the case.

The jury will consider both aggravating and mitigating circumstances relative to the qualifying convictions.

A qualifying conviction is an indictment (often called a charge) that the defendant was found guilty for which qualifies for the penalty of death. Not all convictions qualify for the death penalty.  

The prosecution will call witnesses, primarily victims or family members of victims.  The witnesses have an opportunity to emote and may testify to the impact inflicted upon them by the defendant's acts or they may read pre-written impact statements describing the physical, emotional, and financial impact caused by the defendant's crimes.

The defense may also introduce witnesses to attempt to demonstrate any relevant mitigating factor on behalf of the defendant. After considering the evidence the jury decides whether death should be imposed. If the jury chooses that death should not be imposed, the judge will impose a sentence that will inevitably be a life sentence without parole.  

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors are found in U.S. Code Title 18, Part II c.228  § 3592.

Mitigating factors include impaired capacity, duress, being a minor participant, no prior criminal record, equally or more culpable co-defendant, and other factors including the defendant's past character.  

Aggravating factors are numerous and include whether death occurred during the commission of another crime, a grave risk of death to additional persons, if the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim, substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person or commit an act of terrorism, the particular vulnerability of the victim due to old age, youth, or infirmity, and whether the defendant intentionally killed or attempted to kill more than one person in a single criminal episode.

Jury Determines Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

The jury's must return special finding identifying any aggravating factors. All jurors must unanimously agree for any aggravating factor to be deemed established.

A finding of any mitigating factor, however, may be made by 1 or more members of the jury. Upon a finding of a mitigating factor by at least one member of the jury, the factor is deemed established.

The jury will consider whether all the aggravating factor or factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh all the mitigating factor or factors found to exist to justify a sentence of death, or, in the absence of a mitigating factor, whether the aggravating factor or factors alone are sufficient to justify a sentence of death. The jury will then recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, to life imprisonment without possibility of release or some other lesser sentence.

A recommendation to sentence to death must be by a unanimous vote.

Sources: Wikipedia

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