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Aurora Theater Shooter James Holmes Is Formally Sentenced To Life In Prison

Colorado theatre shooter James Holmes appears in court with his attorneys, Daniel King and Katherine Spengler, during sentencing on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 in Centennial, Colo. CREDIT: RJ SANGOSTI/THE DENVER POST VIA AP, POOL
Colorado theatre shooter James Holmes appears in court with his attorneys, Daniel King and Katherine Spengler, during sentencing on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 in Centennial, Colo. CREDIT: RJ SANGOSTI/THE DENVER POST VIA AP, POOL

James Holmes murdered 12 people at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

Wednesday morning, Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. formally sentenced Holmes to life in prison without parole, and over 3,200 additional years for an explosives conviction and attempted murder. Holmes’ defense attorney, Daniel King, said Holmes would not appeal the conviction.

Samour’s sentencing followed two days of testimony from first responders and survivors of the shooting. Over 100 victims and survivors testified; Holmes’ mother, Arlene, was the last witness.

In mid-July, when Holmes was found guilty of first-degree murder a dozen times over, prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty. (Holmes had also offered to plead guilty, instead of the insanity plea he ultimately submitted, if prosecutors agreed to drop the penalty; the prosecution rejected him.)

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But a life sentence — technically, thousands of life sentences — was the harshest penalty at Samour’s disposal. In early August, a jury did not reach a unanimous conclusion that Holmes should receive the death penalty. One juror favored life without parole; in Colorado, jurors must be unanimous in order to sentence someone to death. In the past 38 years, only one person has been put to death in Colorado.

The Associated Press reports that Samour spent “more than half an hour defending the integrity of the justice system and disputing complaints that the trial was a waste of time. He noted the proceedings gave family members an opportunity to tell the world about their slain loved ones and provided survivors with the chance to talk about their ordeal.”

One survivor, Stephanie Davies, described the anguish of trying to comfort her own child (she has an 8-month-old son) when she has her own fears that can’t be assuaged. “Imagine telling your child that monsters are real and not to be afraid of the dark when you’re scared of the dark yourself.”

Arlene Holmes testified that her son felt guilt and sorrow for his actions but that the public could not see those emotions through her son’s mental illness and medication. “We cannot feel the depths of your pain. We can only listen… And we pray for you. We are very sorry this tragedy happened and sorry everyone has suffered so much.”

Holmes’ formal sentencing comes less than a week after an announcement from Regal Cinemas, the largest movie-theater chain in America, informing moviegoers that theater employees will be searching all ticket-buyers bags before they enter the theater. The increased security measures were introduced in the immediate aftermath of two more recent acts of violence at the movies: A shooting on July 23 at a screening of Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana, and an attack with a hatchet and a pellet gun at an August 5 showing of Mad Max: Fury Road in Nashville, Tennessee.

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But it makes sense to consider the bag checks, and the public push to support them (the Regal Cinemas statement followed a survey that found nearly half of ticket buyers were willing to pay more for improved movie theater security) stem from the Aurora shooting. The scale of that carnage could even stun a nation that experiences mass shootings just about every single day.

During his sentence, Samour compared the horror inflicted by Holmes with the generosity of the juror who spared Holmes’ life. And as for Holmes’ killing spree, Samour said, “It is almost impossible to comprehend how a human being is capable of such acts.”