Does James Egan Holmes Deserve the Death Penalty?


James E. Holmes, who opened fire during the movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in a Aurora, Colorado movie theatre on July 20, will bearraigned at 9 a.m. this morning in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58. He is charged with 166 counts of murder and attempted murder. If convicted he could face the death penalty. 

Holmes is 25 years old and was a formerneuroscience doctoral student at the University of Colorado. He is expected to enter in his plea during the arraignment this morning. It is expected that he will enter in a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. 

The Colorado Bar Association defines an insanity plea as follows: 

"A person who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act is not accountable." 

Many remain highly skeptical of the possible use of this plea, including the victims' family members. Two months prior to the attack, Holmes began to purchase guns and 6,295 rounds of ammunition. Witnesses say he shot indiscriminately at people who attempted to flee from their seats. 

Holmes has been held in isolation and without bond while his defense attorney filed motions in anticipation of the arraignment. In the motions, his defense team argued that the Colorado law on insanity pleas were unconstitutional.

Chief District Judge William Sylvester of the 18th Judicial District ruled in the defense motions. He said that the state of Colorado’s law on insanity please did not violate Holmes’ constitutional rights provided under the Fifth Amendment. The judge also wrote out a 26-point advisement on the consequences of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. 

If Holmes does enter in a plea of guilty, he will be examined by state psychiatrists. State prosecutors have not yet indicated whether or not they will seek the death penalty in the case. After the arraignment, they will have 60 days to decide whether or not they wish to pursue capital punishment. Colorado rarely uses the death penalty. 

If Holmes does enter in a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, it will be up to the defense to prove it. His defense attorney’s have been setting the stage for an insanity plea for quite some time, often referring to their client as "mentally ill." 

The state of Colorado has only put one person to death in the last 45 years. It only has threeinmates on death row. What the state chooses to pursue in the case of Holmes will say a lot about the continuing evolution of our opinion of the death penalty and whether or not it is ever OK.