A jury of 12 people, including a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting massacre, has been chosen for the trial of James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a crowded Aurora, Colorado, movie theater almost three years ago.
Lawyers chose two dozen jurors and alternates — 19 women and five men in all— from a pool of 9,000 people, the largest ever in U.S. history, to decide if the 27-year-old Holmes was mentally ill when he killed a dozen people and wounded scores more. The selection process, which began on Jan. 20 and ended Tuesday, was among the largest and most complicated in U.S. history, The Associated Press reported.
Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder after he allegedly opened fire at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight” inside the Century Aurora 16 movie theater on July 20, 2012. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the incident, one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. In April 2013, prosecutors made public their plans to seek the death penalty against Holmes. He had been a graduate student at the University of Colorado prior to his arrest.
Holmes’s lawyers don’t refute that he was responsible for the shooting. Instead, they will argue that he was in the middle of a psychotic episode when he opened fire inside the movie theater, according to the AP.
District Attorney George Brauchler reportedly characterized the trial to jurors before the selection on Tuesday as a “four- to five-month roller coaster through the worst haunted house you can imagine,” according to the AP. The jurors also include a union plumber, schoolteacher, Denver Public Schools employees, a business woman who cares for her elderly parents and an individual with depression.
The jurors are due back in court for opening statements on April 27. They are expected to serve for as many as six consecutive months.
The jury selection began in January with summons from Colorado’s Arapahoe County. Individuals were required to complete an 18-page questionnaire with 77 questions on various topics, including the death penalty and insanity. By February, the court had excused 2,000 potential jurors who weren’t needed for the trial.
The jurors, lawyers, and potential witnesses are forbidden from speaking with the media.
In a public letter written last December, Holmes’s parents requested that their son be spared from the death penalty because he is mentally ill. Robert and Arlene Holmes also denounced the need for a trial because they said the lengthy process will require everyone to relive the tragedy.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people with mental disabilities violates their Eighth Amendment rights against “cruel and unusual punishments” — yet justices left the door open for states to define who qualifies as mentally disabled. The standard remains that the death penalty is constitutional if it imposes on individuals no more pain than is necessary.
Holmes’s trial was postponed multiple times in the almost three years since the deadly shooting, including the time it took for attorneys on both sides to debate whether he should undergo a second mental health evaluation.