Nearly three years ago, James Eagan Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” and committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Holmes, a 27-year-old former neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, has admitted that he killed 12 people and wounded 70 in the July 20, 2012, massacre. His defense team has entered a “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea, putting the burden on the prosecution to prove that Holmes was sane at the time of the shooting.
Holmes’ criminal trial was handed to a jury yesterday after both sides of the legal aisle delivered their closing arguments. Here are the six highlights of Holmes’ closing argument, as delivered by Chief Deputy Public Defender Daniel King:
1. Holmes’ history of mental illness: King illustrated the genetic origins of Holmes’ mental illness. Both of his grandfathers were hospitalized for mental illness. Holmes’ aunt, the fraternal twin of his father, was diagnosed 30 years ago with schizoaffective disorder — the same diagnosis that has been applied to Holmes. His aunt has delusions, is completely disabled by the illness, has been hospitalized several times, and is on the same anti-psychotic medications as Holmes. He has had a mental disease for at least 10 years, perhaps as early as the the sixth grade. According to the defense, Holmes’ psychotic process began in March, leading to a psychotic break in the form of the mass shooting.
2. Planning and preparation don’t indicate sanity: King dismissed the argument that Holmes’ planning for the crime indicates he was sane. He pointed out to the jury that psychotic people can plan, that planning has nothing to do with distinguishing between right from wrong (the legal test for sanity), and very importantly, all the experts back him up on those points.
3. Mental illness is like cancer: King compared mental illness to cancer after telling the jury, “Here in the fortress of law, there is no room for hate or vengeance or retaliation.” He expounded that, in this country, we are in denial about mental illness, and he seemed to be trying to tell the jury that Holmes is sick — like he would be with any other disease.
4. Holmes isn’t faking it: It was crucial that the defense dismiss from the jury’s minds that Holmes could be feigning his illness. King reminded the jury that there is no evidence of malingering, driving home the point that all experts agree that Holmes is mentally ill. The experts are “extraordinarily consistent, that’s what every one of these experts … told you.” All four experts called by the defense agreed that Holmes suffers from a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
5. Holmes knew he was legally wrong — not morally: King explained that Holmes did not know the difference between “right and wrong,” which is in fact a moral choice. This was a compelling argument, because the legal standard for sanity is actually a moral question — something very critical for the jury to distinguish between.
6. The psychiatrist mashup: The defense concluded its closing argument with what amounted to a video mashup of psychiatrist Dr. William Reid saying to Holmes over and over (and over again many more times), “I don’t want to put words in your mouth.” It was awkwardly entertaining, and it certainly drove home the point that much of what Reid attributes to Holmes may in fact be the psychiatrist’s narrative.