Prosecution In Aurora Theater Shooting Case Rests & It's Been An Emotional Ride So Far
After weeks of gripping evidence and emotional witness statements, the prosecution in the case of alleged Aurora theater shooter James Holmes rested on Friday. Attorneys argued that Holmes had intricately planned out the shooting to the last detail and had been mentally competent at the time of the attack on the Colorado Century movie theater, despite arguments from the defense that he had been unstable. According to court reports, the defense had also tried to restrict the number of witness statements from the prosecution, in order to avoid building sympathy from jurors, but even with limited presentation, the damage was done.
One of those witnesses was Ashley Moser, a mother who was 25 and pregnant at the time of the shooting and became paralyzed after one of the shooter's bullets struck her in the darkened theater on July 20, 2012. Moser's 6-year-old daughter, Veronica, was also killed. Moser said she assumed the gunshots were actually fireworks lit by a group of teens, and she'd stood up to take her daughter out of the theater. She told prosecutors that she had reached back for her daughter's unresponsive hand when she realized what was happening.
"I felt it slip through my hand," said Moser, who told the prosecution that she was then struck and collapsed on top of her daughter. She was unable to move, lying in between the seats until paramedics arrived and rushed her to the hospital. "I heard the movie still playing and people crying and screaming," she recounted.
Moser also told prosecutors that she didn't fully recognize that she had been shot until doctors explained it to her later. Three days after the incident, Moser said they also informed her that she had suffered a miscarriage and that daughter had been killed. According to court reporters, Moser struggled to elaborate on the details, becoming visibly emotional.
"I was told that she didn't make it," Moser said. "That she had passed away."
Veronica had just celebrated her kindergarten graduation weeks earlier, Moser said. The Denver Post reported that prosecutors asked Moser to identify the six-year-old in a photograph from the graduation. Pointing to the screen, prosecutors asked whether the little blonde girl in the photo was Veronica.
"Yes," Moser said as the image flashed across the screen. The Post reported that prosecutors, limited to showing such photos for three seconds or less, then counted down the moments with their fingers before the screen went blank again.
The AP reported that throughout Moser's testimony alleged shooter James Holmes sat largely expressionless in his chair, breaking only to swivel back and forth every so often.
Over a span of eight weeks, the prosecution rounded up some 200 witnesses in total. Several had been present on the day of the shooting at the Century 16 theater, which was showing the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Police stated that Holmes entered the theater and sat for 30 minutes before exiting through an emergency door and re-entering clad in tactical gear, carrying multiple firearms and smoke canisters, which he tossed into the crowd to create panic before opening fire on the darkened theater.
Holmes ex-girlfriend, Gargi Datta, was also called to the stand. Court reports showed that she had urged Holmes to see a therapist in the weeks leading up to the shooting, concerned that he had been talking about "killing people" — although, as Datta told prosecutors, she hadn't believed that Holmes would actually act on his thoughts.
"Initially I was just thinking he was messing with me, that he was joking," Datta said. "It didn’t make sense to me and it seemed a bit irrational." Upon cross examination, the defense attempted to use Datta's testimony to paint a picture of a previously happy young man who had suffered from a mental breakdown.
But prosecutors tried to show jurors that that premise was false. Using testimony by Holmes' University of Colorado therapist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, they attempted to convince the jury that Holmes had been considering homicide for some time and that though he had suffered from some mental anxiety he was fully capable of understanding right from wrong. Holmes wasn't dysfunctional, the prosecution alleged, he was an angry young man who had been broken up with by his girlfriend — the tipping point that caused him to carefully organize his attack on the midnight showing at the theater that July night.
The prosecution attempted to tie up whatever loose ends they could on Friday, telling an emotional Moser that she was free to leave after an exhausting stretch of emotional testimony. For anxious defense attorneys and a stony-faced Holmes, the reported silence in the courtroom that followed spoke volumes. The judge then asked whether prosecutors would like to call their next witness. They declined.
After the three-second photo of a smiling 6-year-old Veronica Moser, there was no other testimony needed.