The death-penalty sentencing trial for James Holmes in the Aurora theater killings, which starts tomorrow, has three phases, reports the Denver Post. Jurors can decide on a life sentence at any point but can sentence Holmes to death only at the end of the entire process. Prosecutors first must prove aggravation, then defense attorneys will call witnesses to speak to his character and to his mental illness. Jurors must find that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors to move forward. Then, prosecutors can call victims’ relatives to speak to the shooting’s impacts. The jury must be unanimous to impose a death sentence.
While no survivor or victim’s relative has spoken out loudly against the death penalty for Holmes, some express reservations about capital punishment in general and say they are setting those aside in this case. Others privately worry about the toll that an extra month of trial, followed by decades of possible appeals, will exact. A typical reaction comes from Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed by Holmes. “We’re very happy that this animal, this monster, will never see the light of day,”she said. She was mostly concerned that the jury would come back with a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, which could have allowed Holmes to be released to the community at some point. Now that he has been convicted, Phillips said she is confident he will die in prison, one way or another.