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The jury in the Aurora theater shooting trial moved one step closer to determining the fate of James Eagan Holmes on Monday, after handing down a unanimous decision in phase two of the sentencing hearing. Now, the proceedings move into the third and final phase, which determines whether Holmes will get the death penalty for his crimes.
On July 16, the same jury of nine women and three men convicted Holmes of 24 counts of first-degree murder for the death of 12 people, and 140 counts of attempted murder for wounding 70 individuals. The 27-year-old committed one of the worst mass shootings in American history when he carried out a planned attack on moviegoers attending the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora on July 20, 2012.
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At phase one of the sentencing trial, which concluded July 23, the panel found the gunman guilty of four of five aggravating circumstances proposed by the prosecution: Killing more than two people; risk of death to others; cruel and heinous manner of crime; and ambush. They did not find him guilty of intentionally killing a child under the age of 12.
With Monday’s ruling, which was handed down after just under three hours of deliberation over the course of two days, the jury determined that the mitigating factors laid out by the defense—including the gunman’s history of mental illness and the fact that he had no previous criminal record—did not outweigh the aggravating factors of his crime.
Now, the sentencing moves on to the third phase, in which the jurors will determine if Holmes should be punished with life in prison, without possibility of parole, or death. But before they make that choice, the court will hear personal testimony from victims, survivors, and their families, in what is known as “victim impact testimony,” as well as closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.
To sentence Holmes to death, the jury must unanimously decide that his crimes were so egregious that he deserves the most severe punishment afforded by the court. If he receives the death penalty, he will join just three other inmates who are on death row in Colorado—a state that has held only one execution since 1976.