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US Jury Declines to Rule Out Death Penalty in Theater Massacre

In this image taken from video, accused Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, standing on the far left, listens as the verdict is read during his trial, in Centennial, Colorado, July 16, 2015.

A jury in the western U.S. state of Colorado has declined to rule out the death penalty for 27-year-old James Holmes, who was found guilty last month in the 2012 shooting deaths of 12 moviegoers near Denver.

Monday's decision, reached after less than three hours of deliberations, sets the stage for a final round of arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys. Those proceedings, set to open Tuesday, are expected to include emotional testimony from victims and relatives about suffering and harm in the aftermath of the massacre. Once those arguments are concluded, the jury will make its final decision on Holmes' ultimate fate.

Seventy others were wounded inside the packed theater in suburban Centennial, when Holmes, dressed in tactical clothing and wearing a gas mask, set off tear gas grenades and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons in July 2012.

The same jurors found Holmes guilty last month on 165 charges of murder and attempted murder, after an emotional 10-week trial.

That verdict was reached in less than 12 hours of deliberations, with jurors rejecting defense arguments that Holmes suffered a psychotic break and was legally insane when he launched the massacre.

Shooting plan was central argument in state's case

Prosecutors opened their case in April, acknowledging Holmes' history of mental illness. But they argued that he meticulously plotted the attack, carefully calculating its location. They also argued that Holmes was fully aware of his objectives when he entered the theater and opened fire.

Police testimony during the trial showed Holmes buying a ticket to the midnight screening of the movie The Dark Knight Rises and sitting in the front row. About 20 minutes into the premiere, he left the theater and returned dressed in black, wearing a ballistic helmet and other military items.

Witness testimony showed some in the audience thought he was wearing a costume, like other moviegoers devoted to a series of action fantasy films depicting the exploits of the fictional Batman character.

Upon his return, testimony showed Holmes throwing two gas canisters into the audience. Police said he then opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun, a semi-automatic assault rifle and eventually a .40 caliber handgun. Police said 76 shots were fired.

Psychiatrists who testified for the defense said Holmes lacked the ability to tell right from wrong, and was therefore incapable of acting with criminal intent.

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