It has not been more than a couple of weeks since a Colorado jury refused to impose the death sentence on James Holmes for perpetrating one of the largest mass murders in U.S. history.
Instead he was given life in prison without the possibility of parole.
You remember James Holmes. Yes I know. These mass murder incidents are now so common as we can easily confuse one with another. Holmes committed his crime in Aurora, Colorado. Aurora was before Newtown and after Columbine and Virginia Tech. And well before Isla Vista. Aurora was some twenty miles from Columbine where two high school students in trench coats slaughtered their class mates.
Aurora was life imitating art again. The young man colored his hair red and called himself “The Joker”; comic book Batman’s arch nemesis was going to spoil the midnight showing at the movies.
Our young man had no trouble at all buying four guns at local gun stores and chemical weapons, full body armor, a gas mask and some six thousand rounds of ammunition over the internet. He had it all shipped directly to his school dorm and to his apartment – over 60 deliveries by UPS alone. Fifteen thousand dollar’s worth of shit.
Twelve people were killed and 70 wounded in the attack.
This kid was supposedly a “brilliant neuro-scientist”, a loner and totally forgettable if you passed him on a street or saw him on a bar stool. No criminal record. No Face Book page; no girl friend; no close buddies. Forgettable.
He graduated with honors and then like millions of others couldn’t find a decent job. What’s new?
His mother knew right away when she heard of the killings. She knew it was her son. Now doesn’t that tell you something?
Yesterday the prosecuting attorney for the state spoke out. George Brauchler, the lead prosecutor expressed disappointment over the failure of the jury to impose death. Further, he stated that only one juror was the holdout; the other eleven were for death. In Colorado, the punishment of death must be unanimous.
Therefore, argues Brauchler, the verdict should not be taken as a sign that the public is growing wary of capital punishment. After all, Holmes was found guilty of the murders by this same jury, rejecting his “innocent by reason of insanity” defense and then went on to vote 11 – 1 (according to Brauchler) for death.
What Brauchler did not mention is that Colorado has executed only one person in nearly half a century, has only 3 on death row currently and one of those has already had his sentence indefinitely commuted.
Holmes’ attorneys were willing to plead him guilty at the very beginning providing he was spared death. Brauchler refused and would not accept it, in part because the defense refused to let Holmes be examined by a prosecution psychiatrist and would not provide the spiral notebook where Holmes scribbled detailed plans for the attack.
Ahh, the spiral notebook. Brauchler was going for death because, in his own words, “This guy always intended to survive this, he intended to go to prison for life, and that did not seem to be a just outcome, to give him that without getting to know all the truth of this. The more truth we discovered, the more we realized a truth the community has to come to grips with too, and that’s that mental illness and evil are not mutually exclusive. They can coexist, and in this case they coexisted and evil dominated.”
Holmes had dating profiles on the websites Match.com and AdultFriendFinder.com. In both profiles he used the phrase “Will you visit me in prison?” as part of his description while looking for date. Brauchler argued that this too indicated that Holmes knew he was going to commit a crime.
Interesting. I’ve always considered mental illness “real” in a way that evil is not. Evil characterizes deeds that people sometimes do when they are mentally ill. They are not possessed by the evil; they are mentally ill.
The prosecution brought a voluminous amount of evidence including 83 witnesses and each side presented their own psychiatric analysis.
The notebook detailed the world and the intentions of James Holmes. He was not insane argued the prosecution; he meticulously planned the attack, right down to his costume and hair style and the Batman movie. He bought the weapons. He carried it out knowing it was wrong. Therefore he is not insane and is therefore guilty.
There can be no legal plea of “guilty by reason of insanity”; only innocent by reason of insanity.
It never crossed the prosecutor’s mind that the notebook might be the greatest evidence of mental illness.
One juror heard the psychiatric testimony and came to the conclusion that James Holmes, in the least, suffered from severe mental illness and would not be moved.
Look at Homes’ picture. Think of him sitting alone scribbling in his notebook about Batman, the movie theater, killing innocents from the stage. Buying the guns.
Did anyone notice this young man? His own mother knew it was him when she heard the reports of the crime on T.V. His own mother knew he was, to put it in non-politically correct terms, bat-shit crazy.
Yet all twelve jurors found him guilty, which means under the law, he is not insane. The definition is simple: He knew “right from wrong”.
Of course he did. And how does that simple fact make him “sane?”.
Our Joker and the others before him, at Columbine, at Virginia Tech, and after him at New Town and later are the symptoms of our societal illness.
They are the loners, the unnoticed in our dog eat dog America where we judge the quality of our communities by the quality of the lawns. Communities where the James Holmes’ of the world sit writing manifestos, scribbling in note books in the basement with no friends, no girl, no Facebook page. In their isolation they live in the fantasy world of revenge on “happy popular” people, on “society”, on the “bitches”. There is no help available for the likes of them. No one to confide in; no where to go.
They are the native sons of 21st century America.
James Holmes will sit in his cell, perhaps in solitary for the rest of his natural life. He will change. By the time he is 50 or 60, when his mother is dead, he may be a different person. It will make no difference. He will be forgotten.
And yet I am encouraged. There was at least one person on that jury that could see the humanity beyond the madness. One person who remembered “Thou shalt not kill.”