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Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty in Colorado Cinema Shooting

James Holmes in courtroom, March 27, 2013

James Holmes in courtroom, March 27, 2013

Prosecutors in the U.S. state of Colorado say they will seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more in a shooting rampage at a movie theater in 2012.

The prosecution's announcement at a Monday court hearing in Centennial, Colorado prompted the judge to say the case against accused gunman James Holmes likely will drag on for years.

Prosecutor George Brauchler said he decided to pursue the death penalty against Holmes after taking into account the wishes of 800 victims and family members who spoke to his team. There was no visible reaction from the suspect as he sat in the court.

Judge William Sylvester responded by postponing the start of the trial until February of next year to give the defense more time to prepare.

Prosecutors rejected a defense offer last week, under which Holmes would have pleaded guilty in return for avoiding execution and spending life in prison without parole.

They accused the defense of trying to generate popular support for a plea deal by negotiating in public rather in private.

Prosecutors accuse Holmes of methodically planning the July 20 shooting and using several weapons to fire on cinema goers at the late-night screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. Defense attorneys are expected to argue he is not guilty due to insanity.

Shooting survivor Marcus Weaver, who was at the court on Monday, expressed concern about the prospect of a lengthy trial.

"It is anguishing, it is frustrating as a victim," said Weaver. "You are talking about a whole calendar year before you get to a trial that we already know the outcome [of]."

Bryan Beard, whose close friend Alex Sullivan was killed in the shooting, told reporters he supports pursuing the maximum punishment against Holmes.

"Thumbs up for the death penalty, thumbs up," said Beard. "I do not know how much pain my friend went through. Painful or not, I just want him [Holmes] dead. I want to be in the room when he is dead."

The rampage has re-ignited a long running public debate in the United States about how to deal with gun violence and people with mental health problems.