The parents of James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, requested that their son be spared from the death penalty because he is mentally ill.
"We are aware of people's sentiments. We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster. He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," Robert and Arlene Holmes wrote in a letter published Friday in The Denver Post. “We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill."
Holmes, who is now 27, is charged with murdering 12 people and attempting to kill 70 more inside the Century Aurora 16 movie theater on July 20, 2012. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the deadly incident, one of the worst mass shootings in American history. In April 2013, prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty against Holmes.
His parents also denounced the need for a trial because they said the lengthy process will require everyone to relive the shooting. If the prosecution and defense agree to a sentence of life in prison, Holmes would live in jail and not cause anyone to recall those moments, they added.
Prior to the massacre, Holmes never harmed anyone nor had a criminal history, his parents said. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would enter an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill, which, his parents wrote, would prevent future harm to him and other people.
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.
"We love our son, we have always loved him, and we do not want him to be executed," the Holmeses wrote.
The letter marks the first time since the shooting that his parents have commented publicly about their son's actions. They currently live in Rancho Peñasquitos, California, but have traveled to Colorado for their son's court appearances. Their comments came as 9,000 jury summonses are being delivered for their son's trial. Jury selection is expected to begin on Jan. 20, and opening statements for the months-long trial won't begin until at least late May, the Denver Post reported.
Their letter was published a day after the Death Penalty Information Center released a year-end report that found the country in 2014 saw the lowest number of executions in two decades. Thirty-five people were put to death this year, which was marked by intense focus on several high-profile botched executions and questions raised about new drug cocktails used in lethal injections. The United States is one of 40 countries in the world that still employs capital punishment.
The Denver Post's editorial team reportedly obtained the letter through the parents' attorney.