James Holmes death penalty trial is a colossal waste of time and money

James Eagan Holmes was arrested on July 20, 2012 shortly after killing 12 and wounding 70 people at the midnight premier of a new Batman film in the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, CO. He was eventually charged with 152 crimes, including 12 counts of premeditated murder, 12 counts of depraved heart murder (charged in the alternative) and 70 counts of attempted murder. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty even though there is no question that Holmes was mentally ill but legally sane at the time of the shootings — one psychiatrist diagnosed him as suffering from schizotypal disorder while a second psychiatrist diagnosed him as suffering from shizoaffective disorder — and he offered to plead guilty to a life-without-parole sentence. After the prosecution rejected the defense offer, Holmes changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial began with jury selection on January 20, 2015. Both sides rested yesterday. Closing arguments for the guilt phase are scheduled to start on Tuesday.

We who have experience representing clients in death penalty cases* refer to the guilt phase in a slam dunk case like this as a slow-motion guilty plea. That is, when we lack a defense, instead of pleading guilty, we use the guilt phase to introduce evidence that mitigates the seriousness of the offense. Holmes’s insanity defense is doomed because he admitted to police that he knew killing was wrong. But there is no dispute that he was mentally ill. While not a defense, mental illness is a powerful mitigating factor and, as I’ve said previously, I think the jury will likely vote for a life-without-parole sentence after the penalty phase for the simple reason that killing somebody who was mentally ill through no fault of their own is morally and ethically repugnant to most people.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again, this trial has been a colossal waste of taxpayer time and money.

*I was a death penalty lawyer until I retired in 2005.

6 Responses to James Holmes death penalty trial is a colossal waste of time and money

  1. bettykath says:

    Have you all heard that the feds executed search warrants on the Bell family, all members plus the girlfriend of one of them? They showed up between 3-4 am and took computers, phones, etc., electronic stuff. The two Bell boys have been reasonable poi and dad is the FBI agent who wouldn’t let the boys be interviewed. This happened within the past week.

  2. Eliminating the death penalty would certainly shorten a lot of trials and of course, stats prove that long sentences are cheaper than the death penalty because of the extensive trials and appeals.

    Would it be kosher to fast-track mentally ill murderers into psychiatric lock-up rather than engage in lengthy trials, or would that invite abuse, as in locking up people who don’t belong in psychiatric facilities?

    • As you probably know, insanity is a legal definition, not a mental health diagnosis. I think we need to start by redefining insanity in terms that comply with the terminology in the DSM V. Then we need to have secure treatment oriented facilities that look and function like hospitals, not prisons. Commitment decisions and treatment options have to be made by mental health professionals, subject to periodic review. The emphasis should be on restoring mental health and returning patients to the community in a gradual step-down process to independent living with support en route that includes education, job training, a job that pays a living wage and medication as needed.

      This will cost money that taxpayers should pay since it is the humane and decent thing to do.

      There will be objections from the haters, of course, but we need to persevere toward a more humane society than we now have.

  3. racerrodig says:

    Well stated and a great article. It shows how preposterous LE can be when they pursue this yet let admitted mob hit men rat on others then put them in the witness protection program and WE pay their expenses.

    When Holmes offered guilty to begin with, it should have ended there.

  4. Malisha says:

    One horrible result of our not having given up the death penalty, as a nation, is that we make a total mockery of the justice system every time a trial like this occurs. There is no rational way to excuse this idiotic and mean-spirited attempt to make the entire country convulse with outrage, anxiety and hostility for months on end whenever a case like this appears. Disgusting. And the definition of “insanity” for legal purposes is a travesty. There is not even any education offered in our public school system, anywhere in K through 12, that deals with the issue of “moral choice” in the real world. Right and wrong? How could any of OUR public officials even dare open his or her mouth about it? ESPECIALLY these judges; god help us!

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