World & Nation

How many mass shootings happened during the James Holmes trial?

Nashville theater shooting

Emergency personnel gather outside Carmike Hickory 8 movie theater in the Nashville community of Antioch on Wednesday after police killed a suspect wielding a hatchet, pepper spray and a pellet gun.  

(Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

You’d think Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. would have been alarmed.

After more than three months of arduous testimony, the trial of Aurora, Colo., gunman James E. Holmes was nearing an end. During the jurors’ regular lunch break on Wednesday, a middle-aged man armed with a gun, a hatchet and pepper spray stormed a Nashville-area theater.

It was an eerie copy of Holmes’ crime, and questions arose: Could jurors have heard about it during the break? Would it taint the men and women who were about to decide whether Holmes lives or dies for committing the July 20, 2012, massacre that left 12 dead and 70 wounded?

The judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys ultimately shrugged it off in a kind of “meh” moment.


After all, this is America in 2015, and it’s not the first time a gunman has made headlines. It’s not even the first time a gunman has made headlines during the Holmes trial, which began on April 27.

It’s at least the fourth high-profile incident, in case you were counting, and the second in a theater. Consider: 

  • June 17, Charleston, S.C.: Nine worshipers are shot dead during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof, 21, has been indicted on federal hate-crime charges as well as state murder charges.
  • July 16, Chattanooga, Tenn.: A Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen attacks two military facilities, gunning down five servicemen before a police officer shoots him dead. Investigators have described him as a “homegrown violent extremist.”
  • July 23, Lafayette, La.: A lone gunman opens fire during a screening of “Trainwreck,” killing two moviegoers and wounding nine before turning the gun on himself.
  • Wednesday, Nashville area: The headline says it all: “Police kill hatchet-wielding gunman who opened fire inside Nashville movie theater.” “Mad Max: Fury Road” was playing. One man suffered a superficial hatchet wound; he and two women were hit with blasts of pepper spray. Authorities said later that the gunman actually had a pellet gun. 

The first three incidents did not affect Holmes’ jurors, so why should the fourth? The incident came and went with only a slight courtroom ripple.
Samour: “I became aware during the lunch break that there was another shooting at a theater....”


Prosecutor Rich Orman: “It could just be a crime that happened in a movie theater, not because of what was playing....”

Samour: “I thought I would bring it up and see if either party had a position on it....”

Defense attorney Tamara Brady: “Perhaps tell them [jurors] that we are very close to the end of this case, and it would be best if they can avoid the news as much as possible.... I’d hate to have the court emphasize that there was yet another case....”

Samour: “I will request that, if at all possible, they do not watch the news at all....”

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