CENTENNIAL, COLORADO – Condemning movie massacre gunman James Holmes to 12 life sentences and the maximum 3,318 years in prison for his rampage in a midnight screening of a Batman film, a Colorado judge said on Wednesday that evil and mental illness are not mutually exclusive.
“It is the court’s intention that the defendant never set foot in free society again. … If there was ever a case that warranted the maximum sentences, this is the case,” Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour said.
“The defendant does not deserve any sympathy.”
Survivors and relatives of those killed clapped and cheered as Samour then ordered deputies to remove Holmes from his courtroom, and the gunman was led away in shackles.
The 27-year-old was found guilty last month of murdering 12 people and wounding 70 after donning a helmet, gas mask and body armor, then opening fire with a semiautomatic rifle, shotgun and pistol.
The jury did not reach a unanimous decision on whether Holmes should be executed. That meant the former neuroscience graduate student, who had pleaded insanity, got a dozen automatic life sentences with no parole for his attack on the packed screening at the Century 16 multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Samour still had to sentence Holmes on scores of attempted murder counts, and an explosives charge he received for rigging his apartment with homemade bombs.
Condemning the shooter to the longest term he could issue, the judge said Holmes set out to kill “as many innocents as possible” after deciding to “quit” in life.
He said whatever illness Holmes may have suffered, there was overwhelming evidence that a significant part of his conduct had been driven by “moral obliquity, mental depravity, … anger, hatred, revenge, or similar evil conditions.”
After a trial that began in late April, the judge said the “$64 million question” that lingered was whether the defendant was afflicted by a mental condition, disease or defect, and if so, to what extent.
“We tend to like simple answers, but maybe it’s not so simple,” Samour said. “And maybe that’s because we’re not where we need to be in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.”
After two days of often tearful and sometimes angry testimony from victims, District Attorney George Brauchler had called on Tuesday for Holmes to be given every day of the harshest possible prison term.
The lead prosecutor also said he wished the court could order that the defendant spend the rest of his days in solitary confinement, surrounded by photos of the people he killed, but that it could not.
After the judge delivered the sentence, Brauchler told reporters the gunman had never said he was sorry.
“He has never expressed remorse … he is remorseless,” Brauchler said outside court.
Earlier, Samour had noted that some people bemoaned that the gunman would luxuriate in prison. But he said he agreed with one of the victims who warned it would be “no picnic.”
The judge said people could focus on the free food and medical care Holmes will receive. Or, he said, they could see the glass as half-full and consider he will be locked up for the rest of his days with serious, dangerous criminals.
“That doesn’t sound like a four-star hotel to me,” Samour said.
It is unclear where Holmes will serve his sentence. He could be transferred out of state.
Defense lawyers say they have no plans to appeal, and the judge said that meant they had “truly completed” the trial in a surprisingly short period of just over three years.
“That’s unheard of time for a death penalty case, especially one of this magnitude,” Samour said.
“Had a death sentence been imposed, I can promise you this case would have been pending before this court and in the appellate courts for years, if not decades.”
And the judge praised the victims, who he said had shown tremendous courage and grit even though some of whom were disappointed that Holmes would not be executed.
“You know your healing is not tied to the defendant’s fate,” Samour said.
“Even despite all the pain and suffering you’ve been through, you’re not quitting, and you’re hanging in there, and you’re fighting. You have my admiration.”