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James Holmes beats death penalty in Aurora theater massacre, gets life in prison for 12 'Batman' slayings

Agony: Family members gasped and sobbed as James Holmes' life sentences were read. One juror "absolutely would not move" to vote for execution, juror 17 said.

To tears and quiet sobs from the families of the 12 people he shot dead, a Colorado jury sentenced madman James Eagan Holmes to life in prison, without parole for the 2012 massacre at a packed multiplex.

The death penalty phase of the case against Holmes ended without the unanimous vote needed to put a convict to death.

"We ended our deliberations when one absolutely would not move," a juror, who only identified herself as "juror 17," said, and two otherswere "on the fence."

"I don't know if they could have been swayed or not."

The same jury last month found Holmes, 27, guilty of 24 counts of capital murder -- two for each victim in the July 20, 2012 mass shooting during a midnight showing of a new Batman film.

That verdict was a rejection of his insanity defense. Still, his lawyers argued again in the penalty that Holmes should not be put to death because he is mentally ill.

And juror 17 said that was what weighed on the lone hold-out: ""I think primarily it was the mental illness."

It took 11 minutes to read the penalty verdicts on all 24 counts.

FAMILIES' NEW AGONY

Some family members quietly bolted for the doors as it became clear there would be no death penalty.

Others sat their in shock. Gasps and sobbing could be heards as each life sentence was announced.

Among them wasAshley Moser, who melted in her wheelchair.

Moser was paralyzed by Holmes' bullets and her 6-year-old daughter Veronica was killed.

"We always knew this was a possibility," Veronica's grandfather, Robert Sullivan, said later.

“He’s still living and breathing,” he told reporters. “Our loved ones are gone.”

Among the many law enforcement officials who showed up to support the families at the courthouse inCentennial, CO,wasAurora Police Chief Nicholas Metz.

He, too, expressed anger.

"There will never be closure for these families, for these victims," he said. "They will carry the scars. They will carry the pain."

Not everyone was upset Holmes will live.

“Thank you, jurors, for letting reason and not emotion guide you in your decision,” said Joran Ghawi, whoses 24-year-old sister Jessica was slain.

“A death sentence, to which I am vehemently opposed, [would] result in automatic appeals, millions of more dollars, and additional anguish.”

The jurors reached their life-in-prison verdict late Friday afternoon after asking the court to show them one last time a video of the body-strewn theater

THE NIGHT OF THE SLAUGHTER

Holmes had entered a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora,wearing a gas mask, helmet and body armor.

He threw a teargas canister into the theater, then opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, pump action shotgun and pistol.

The police arrested Holmes outside. When they asked if he had an accomplice, he replied: "No, it's just me."

Dozens of wounded survivors testified during the trial about how they attempted to hide from his hail of bullets, some of them steel-penetrating rounds, or stumbled over the bodies of loved ones as they tried to flee.

Prosecutors said Holmes aimed to slaughter all 400 theater goers. But he failed to kill more, they said, in part because a drum magazine he bought to boost his firepower jammed.

In his closing argument to the jury, District Attorney George Brauchler had argued that the gunman deserved to die for the "horror and evil" he wrought inside the screening.

Brauchler said after Friday's life-in-prison decisiion that he was disappointed and had failed.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he got what he wanted," the prosecutor said of the gunman.

HOLMES' COLD STARE

The proceedings against Holmes began in late April and reached penalty phase closing arguments on Thursday after 60 days of trial, 306 witnesses, and the introduction of nearly 2,700 pieces of evidence.

Holmes showed no reaction Friday as his fate was read out loud.

He instead stared straight ahead, his hands in his pockets, as the families of his victims, the survivors, and first responders who rushed to the theater three years ago sat stunned and weeping.
With Reuters

FROM REUTERS
This was a list published by Reuters soon after the killings with quick, poignant words on each of the dozen tragic victims.


Jon Blunk, 26
The 26-year-old military veteran was attending the movie with a friend, Jansen Young, who says Blunk "took a bullet for me." Blunk enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating high school in 2004. Blunk leaves behind a wife and two young children. [ KRNV ]

AJ Boik, 18
The recent high school graduate liked baseball, pottery and music, the Denver Post reports. He was accepted to a Colorado college with aspirations of studying art. His future plans included becoming an art teacher and opening his own studio, his family told the Post. [ The Denver Post ]

Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29
The 29-year-old Air Force reservist was a resident of Thorton and was one of two people the Department of Defense confirms as deceased in connection with the shooting. [ The Denver Post ]

Gordon Cowden, 51
The 51-year-old was the oldest victim in the Colorado mass shooting. [ The Washington Post/AP ]

Jessica Ghawi, 24
The 24-year-old aspiring sports broadcaster, also known by her alias Jessica Redfield, was one of the first victims named. Ghawi escaped from a mass shooting at a food court in a Toronto mall, an experience she chronicled on her blog. "I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end," she wrote . [ National Public Radio ]

Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, 27
The 27-year-old was a cryptologic technician in Aurora, his first duty station according to a defense spokesman. A Navy team contacted Larimer's family early Saturday morning. Larimer is eligible for a military burial. [ Stars & Stripes ]

Matt McQuinn, 27
When the shooting began inside Theater 9, the 27-year-old is credited with saving the life of his girlfriend Samantha Yowler by shielding her body with his own. Friends described the couple, both employees of the department store Target, as fun individuals who were popular both in their Colorado home as well as their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Yowler is recovering from injuries sustained in the shooting. [ Dayton Daily News ]

Micayla Medek, 23
"I’m a simple independent girl who’s just trying to get her life together while still having fun," the 23-year-old, who described herself as a "Subway sandwich artist," wrote on her Facebook page. Medek's friends said they tried to carry her out of the theater but were told by emergency officials to leave her inside. [ Los Angeles Times ]

Veronica Moser, 6
The youngest shooting victim was described by a family member as a "vibrant, excitable" girl who was enthused about learning how to swim just days prior. "It's a nightmare right now," her aunt Annie Dalton told the Denver Post. Moser's mother, 25-year-old Ashley Moser, is listed in critical condition at an area hospital. [ San Jose Mercury News/Denver Post ]

Alex Sullivan, 27
The 27-year-old went to the midnight showing of the latest Batman film as part of a birthday celebration with co-workers. "One hour (until) the movie and it's going to be the best birthday ever," he tweeted according to ABC News. His father, Tom Sullivan, was captured in this Reuters image as he pleaded with members of the media to pass along any information about his then-missing son. Sullivan was a local bartender. [ ABC News ]

Alex Teves, 24
"Alex didn’t make it," a friend named Caitlin, who saw the movie with the 24-year-old man, wrote on Twitter. "The world isn’t as good a place without him." Tom Teves, the victim's father, told ABC that his son saved his girlfriend by blocking her from a bullet. Teves, originally from Arizona, lived in the Denver area. [ KMGH ]

Rebecca Wingo, 32
"She had the sweetest smile you have ever seen," said a friend of the 32-year-old. Wingo grew up near Dallas in the town of Quinlan, Texas. After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a translator, she moved to the Denver area to reconnect with her two girls. Wingo was at the early morning screening of the film with two friends. [WFAA ]

John A. Oswald is editor-at-large at Metro and can be found on Twitter@nyc_oz.
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