The jurors who took just 12 hours to convict James Holmes of the Colorado cinema murders will now decide whether he should face the death penalty.
On Thursday, the jury rejected Holmes’ defence that he was legally insane when he slipped into the midnight premiere of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring scores of others.
Now the trial enters a new phase as they decide whether Holmes should die for his crimes.
Jurors will hear testimony about Holmes’ mental illness and his childhood. Prosecutors may counter with even more heartbreaking accounts from victims, ranging from those Holmes maimed to the father of his youngest victim, a six-year-old girl who died in the 2012 attack.
There was a muted, heartbroken sense of relief on Thursday afternoon following Holmes’ conviction on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges.
Victims wept and comforted one another in the courtroom during the hour-long recitation of each verdict, holding hands and nodding their heads with satisfaction when their loved ones’ names were read.
“We’re all really happy he’s guilty, but we’re all really sad to be here,” said Katie Medley, whose husband Caleb uses a wheelchair after being shot in the head during the attack.
The verdict came after two-and-a-half years of legal skirmishing between prosecutors and Holmes’ public defenders and 11 months of gruelling testimony. The upcoming sentencing phase could take another month. “I’m glad we’re at this point but at the same time we have a long way to go,” said Marcus Weaver, who was injured in the attack and whose friend Rebecca Wingo was killed.
Experts say the sentencing phase could prove even more emotionally wrenching as survivors describe the impact of the shooting on their daily lives.
It will be a harder decision for jurors, who will have fewer instructions to guide them, said defence attorney Karen Steinhauser, who is not involved in the Holmes case.
That jurors swiftly rejected Holmes’ insanity defence doesn’t mean they’ll come to a speedy conclusion about his punishment. “They’re going to have to decide, for someone who is mentally ill, if a death sentence is the right punishment,” she said. “It ends up being a much more personal decision.”
If just one juror disagrees with a death sentence, Holmes, 27, will be sent to prison for life.
The trial offered a rare glimpse into the mind of a mass shooter, as most are killed by police, kill themselves or plead guilty.
Prosecutors argued Holmes knew exactly what he was doing when he methodically gunned down strangers as they fled. They painted him as a calculated killer who sought to assuage his failures in school and romance with a mass murder he believed would increase his personal worth.