Arlene Holmes says she's not just praying for her son's life, but for the lawyers that might ultimately sentence him to death as well. The mother of the Aurora theater shooter, James Holmes, has a lot of serious concerns about the death penalty and has told the press as much in numerous comments over the years. As opening statements in her son's trial began at Arapahoe County District Court on Monday, Holmes and her family grappled with the idea that the jurors inside the courtroom would ultimately decide James' right to live.
"My basic feeling is it’s immoral to have a state kill its own citizens, no matter what they did," explained Holmes in an interview with The Del Mar Times in March. "Now I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and how much it hurts people." Holmes also explained that the family still harbored some guilt over the incident, wondering whether or not they should have seen it coming and done something to stop it.
"That’s some of the guilt we have, that we didn’t recognize he was ill and needed treatment," she said. "Our kid was quiet, compliant, obeyed all the rules. He never bothered anyone, he never harmed anyone."
James Holmes currently stands accused of 166 separate counts in the mass shooting of a Denver area theater on July 20, 2012, which took the lives of 12, including one young man whose mother was shocked at Arlene Holmes' pleas, which were detailed in Holmes' prayer book, When the Focus Shifts.
"I struggle to understand how this individual could possibly pray for, by name, the thousands upon thousands of innocent people who continue to be directly impacted by her son’s evil, premeditated acts," said Caren Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting, in an interview with Yahoo! News. "Almost three years after Alex was executed in that theater, she has never even extended the decent act of a simple apology."
Holmes, for her part, defended her opposition to the death penalty, citing her son's plea of "not guilty" by reason of insanity. "I do not know why [prosecutors] want to pursue execution of a mentally ill man," she wrote in her book.
According to police reports, in the days leading up to the shooting, James had spoken to a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia research, although the conversations between the two were never made public. Reports by defense-hired medical professionals also were conflicted. Whatever was going on in James Holmes' mind when he made the premeditated decision to pull the trigger remains unsolved.
If the court finds him guilty, a new phase of the trial will begin during which the panel of jurors will be asked to consider a capital punishment sentence.
"This was definitely a function of his mental illness," said James' father Bob Holmes to The Del Mar Times, indicating that while he was dreading court proceedings, the thought of his son's possible sentence hung over his head constantly. "I'm just trying to get through each day," he said.
The death penalty debate has been reignited recently thanks to a slew of headline-grabbing cases, like that of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was found guilty of all 30 counts against him on April 8. Seventeen of those counts carried a possible death sentence, a punishment that has since been hotly debated in the media.
In December 2014, the Holmes family released an open letter, urging the prosecution not to execute their son for his crimes due to mental instability.
We realize treatment in an institution would be best for our son. We love our son, we have always loved him and we do not want him to be executed.
We do not know how many victims of the theater shooting would like to see our son killed. But we are aware of people's sentiments. ... He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness. We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.
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