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James Holmes jurors begin final deliberations: 'Evil' vs. 'mercy'

James Holmes jurors begin final deliberations: 'Evil' vs. 'mercy'
Prosecutor George Brauchler, right, and James E. Holmes, sitting at far left, in an image taken from video during closing arguments in the sentencing phase of Holmes' trial in Centennial, Colo. (Colorado Judicial Department / Pool photo)

The People of the state of Colorado vs. James E. Holmes wound down Thursday much as it had begun more than three months ago, with silence and then drama.

Arapahoe County Dist. Atty. George H. Brauchler stood in the center of the tense courtroom, facing jurors who will decide if the convicted murderer lives or dies. A picture of the multiplex exit flashed on the screen above Holmes' head. A long pause, and then familiar words:

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"Through this door was horror," Brauchler said, in his final arguments before deliberations began. "Through this door, bullets. Blood. Brains. Bodies. Through this door, after more than 2 1/2 months of complex, detailed planning, he came in to murder everyone and was successful in killing 12."

At 3:15 p.m. Mountain time, the nine women and three men weighing Holmes' fate began their deliberations. If they do not unanimously agree on a death sentence, then he will get life in prison without possibility of parole.

Jurors have already convicted the 27-year-old failed neuroscience student on 165 counts including murder and attempted murder in the July 20, 2012, rampage that left a dozen dead and 70 more injured during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." They have viewed 2,695 pieces of evidence and heard from 306 witnesses over the course of 60 trial days, Brauchler said, "all of that leading to right now, to determine what is the appropriate sentence for such horror, such evil."

With Holmes looking impassively on, occasionally swiveling in his chair at the defense table, Brauchler reminded jurors of every person for whom "he picked the time and place and manner of their deaths."

Of John Larimer, 27, who dreamed of running for president in the 2020 election cycle, when he would have been 35 had he not been murdered. Of Jesse Childress, 29, "who loved the Broncos so much that he subsisted on ramen so he could afford those season tickets."

Of Veronica Moser-Sullivan, "forever 6, never made it to first grade," Brauchler told the jury as a photo of the smiling child at her kindergarten graduation was broadcast on the courtroom screen. The girl's death, he said, left behind a mother "who doesn't know who she is anymore. She used to be a mother.... Now she's not anymore."

For perhaps the first time in the lengthy trial, Brauchler actually uttered the name of the man who swathed himself in body armor, strapped on weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and killed as many people as he possibly could.

But Brauchler waited until the end of his closing argument, after telling jurors their decision is not an act of vengeance but a very particular act of justice -- not for the dead and not for the survivors -- "the people who came here to tell you that they joined the living dead."

"You cannot get them justice, and you should not seek it," the prosecutor said. "But you can bring justice to this act. And to him. And for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death. It's death."

Justice, however, is a tricky thing, as defense attorney Tamara Brady reminded jurors -- many of whom had cried on Wednesday while listening to witnesses talk about what life was like after Holmes murdered their loved ones.

Her voice shaking with emotion, Brady acknowledged the damage that her client wrought and told jurors that no one on the defense team "has spent a minute trying to convince you that James Holmes did not do that shooting in that theater."

But the point of disagreement in Division 201 of the Arapahoe County Justice Center, she said, "is the same as it was on Day One -- mental illness -- and is execution the proper response when mental illness overtakes a young man."

Every psychologist and psychiatrist who saw Holmes, those hired by the defense and by the court itself, agreed that he is "seriously mentally ill," Brady said, and denying his illness means "you have chosen to ignore that mound of evidence that proves he was."

"Efforts have been made to mock, demean and deny that he is mentally ill, to make him out to seem hateful and evil and selfish," she told the jury. "Because you have to dehumanize someone before you can ask other people to kill him. It is easier to ask you to kill a monster than it is a sick human being."

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Brady appealed Thursday for both justice and mercy, qualities that she said cannot and should not be teased apart in a humane society. Holmes, she said, was mentally ill before, during and after the rampage, which was "born of disease, not choice."

"The measure of our soul is how we treat people who are sick and who are damaged," she told jurors, who will continue deliberating Friday morning. "James Holmes is sick, and he is damaged. If you choose to bestow mercy on James Holmes, it's not because he earned it."

Mercy is about you, she told jurors, not about him.

"Mercy is what makes us civilized," she said. "Mercy is what puts an end to violence.... Justice without mercy is raw vengeance."

Follow @marialaganga for national news.

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