EDITORIAL: Holmes trial has become argument for plea bargain

This much money and energy should be spent on preventing the next massacre, rather than seeking unattainable revenge for this one

The effort to seek justice for victims of the Aurora theater shooting is no longer a court trial. It is now a wildly expensive and ineffective bureaucratic contraption seeking to serve itself, rather than some notion of closure and fairness.

To understand just how wrong the trial against admitted shooter James Holmes has gone, you have to look at the facts of the case and the events so far.

115741_600The evidence against Holmes acting by himself to plan and carry out the July 20, 2012, slaughter inside a crowded Aurora theater was overwhelming just hours after police found him outside the Century 16 theater — and even just minutes after he killed 12 and wounded about 70 more people.

Through his attorneys, Holmes admitted to the crime.

It was then, when Holmes’ attorneys offered up a plea, that the case began to go awry. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler turned back the plea deal, announcing he would seek the death penalty against Holmes.

Since then, Brauchler’s office has already spent a whopping $667,000 on prosecuting the case, according to records obtained by Channel 4 News in Denver. It’s unknown how much the defense has spent so far, but they have enlisted the aid of California trial and jury consultants that without doubt, will not come cheap.

While both sides have walloped the court with motions, even before the rules of jury selection can be entertained, the defense team has imposed a virtual blizzard of arguments, working feverishly to derail the case and keep as much as possible secret. Holmes’ lawyers have asked to move the trial, end the trial, throw out the trial, prevent further psychological evaluation of Holmes, rule against the death penalty and more. Defense lawyers have asked Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour to rule on dozens of motions, some the judge has already called “frivolous.”

Now, the defense is asking that part or all of the jury selection process be secret, preventing the press, victims and witnesses from watching who gets chosen and how.

Everyone appreciates the difficult job of the defense to save their client’s life by persuading a jury that Holmes was and/or is “insane.” But the court must weigh fair-trial requirements with the priority of the system itself: to ensure justice. A secret trial that precludes the victims and public from observing almost every proceeding is not justice, at least not by American standards.

Clearly, this trial will cost millions of dollars, and many millions more will be spent if Holmes is sentenced to death. The push to execute convicted 1993 Chuck E. Cheese’s murder Nathan Dunlap has cost more than $18 million, so far.

We can nearly guarantee, with or without an insanity conviction, Colorado will never execute Holmes for the Aurora massacre. Instead, Colorado will waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and an increasingly hamstrung trial process will keep victims and the public from learning why and how Holmes pulled off his obscene crime.

The death penalty in states like Colorado has run its course. If courts, lawmakers or voters don’t stop human executions in the near future, complications from the act of inflicting lethal injections will make such sentences impossible to carry out. It took 20 years to even come close to carrying out a death sentence against Dunlap that last year was wisely called off by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Even if you are a fervent supporter of capital punishment, if it happens at all, it happens only after decades of pain for the victims and at a massive cost to taxpayers.

Rather than needlessly inflict even more suffering on Aurora,  Brauchler should end this and allow a plea that ensures the world will be safe from Holmes until he dies in prison. This much money and energy should be spent on preventing the next massacre, rather than seeking unattainable revenge for this one.

  • Peter

    So let the white college kid who killed 12 plea out, and keep the 3 African- Americans (all prosecuted out of Arapahoe County) who killed 6 people combined remain on death row?

    This editorial is simply a setup for the media to blast Brauchler in whatever he decides. Damned if you do – damned if you don’t with the media (and special interest groups) in this country.

    Stay consistent and fry him, assuming we will have a governor who will listen to the people and not allow his personal beliefs get in the way when that day comes.

    • Dan

      The point of the article is to show how expensive the whole process is and to really ask “is it worth it”? According to the article, the DA has spent over $667,000 so far. According to this study done last year (http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/Price_of_Prisons_updated_version_072512.pdf) the average cost to house a Colorado inmate, per year, is around $30k. That means, the DA’s have already spent enough money on this case to have housed James Holmes for over 20 years…and thats not including the defense cost (since they are Public Defenders, the cost comes from tax payers as well) or court costs (again, taxpayer money). If you divide up the $18MILLION they have spent on trying to kill Nathan Dunlap – that equals over 600 YEARS. Is that REALLY worth it? If the DA’s had accepted the life sentence, James Holmes would be living in a concrete cell by himself, eating bologna sandwiches and drinking water for 23hours a day…sounds pretty glamorous doesnt it?!

      So then the argument usually turns to “well, we need to reform the system and get rid of all these appeals!”. So the choices are, either pay absurd amounts of taxpayer dollars to try and kill 1 person instead of just having them spend the next 40 years in a hole, or I have to give up some of my constitutional rights to make the killing process “easier”. Sounds like great choices…

      By continuing to enforce the death penalty system, you are not only supporting the killing of another human being, but you are also accepting a system that has been proven to have (and still does) killed innocent people. Regardless of how certain we are about who did what in this specific case – the system as a whole is very broken. I could never support a system that even had a remote chance of killing an innocent person.

      • Peter

        Your cost analysis is silly on multiple fronts. Most of the cost is on salaries for the attorneys. Salaries that are being paid anyway. You can spin costs however you want.
        You ignore the social, and political side to this as well.
        If you are the DA are you ready to answer the questions from the NAACP, the black religious alliance (or whatever their name is). Are you prepared to answer the tough questions from the as to why a white kid gets to plea? Would you be prepared to lose your $160k a year job in a year and change?
        Are you williing to face the victims families who have obviously said they would like to see him put down?
        Or are you going to just plea it down to save money? Most of which is spent on salaries but spun so the uninformed believe that these are new costs?

        • Dan

          Again, you are missing the point of the article. While the article IS talking about the James Holmes case (since that case is current and on-going right now), the overall point is that the death penalty system is way to expensive to justify the end result. You have to include salaries because most of the attorneys involved, on both sides, are only working on this one case. Each one of these attorneys could be carrying very large case loads, however due to the magnitude of the death penalty process, as well as the sheer amount of witnesses/victims involved with this case, they are only able to focus on this 1 case.

          This article, and the argument it is making, has nothing to do with race. You are trying to make it about race to justify your position. You have to look past race and see the whole picture of whats going on here.

          Finally, you talk about the victims as if YOU have sat down and talked to each and every person involved with this case. What about the victims in this case who dont want him to be put to death? Do they count for anything? Or do you only listen to those who want to “fry him”?

          • Peter

            Again, I have read the article and if you do not believe race, politics and that interviews of victims and their families have not been done, tabulated and counted then you are slow. Yes numerous attorneys are slammed with work – sucks, but it will get done. Still doesn’t change the “cost” of this. Libs manipulate numbers everyday and this is yet another example. You could say this will coat a billion dollars, and many libs will believe it, not question it, report it as fact, and demand that “something” needs to be done. Keep counting pennies, I will continue to look at the big picture, which you don’t see.

  • Claudio Giusti

    Is Colorado where there was a recall election against two senators who voted a very light law against free weapons ???

  • Alison

    But this reason they’ve not done a plea bargain is also money. If they can’t prove James Holmes was sane and that it was his fault, then the victims have no recourse to sue University of Colorado or the doctors in the dept of psychiatry there. I might let you know that the suits over Va Tech and that Cho fella cost the state of Virginia upwards of 45 MILLION DOLLARS! So, this is why they have not done with it and slammed his butt in jail for life where it belongs.

    • Dan

      The plea deal would have forced him to plead guilty straight up. His sanity and state of mind were not an issue in regards to the plea deal. Its not like the defense was asking for him to be declared insane or he stay at the state hospital. He would have plead guilty and then gone straight to a maximum security prison…period. Him being sentenced to death has no bearing on civil lawsuits filed by the victims.

      • Alison

        A Death Sentence means he was fully aware of what he did, why he was wrong to do it, and that he could have stopped himself at any point during his crime spree. A mass shooting is a forcible continuous felony. NGRI, says to the jury that he could not stop himself because of his illness. He’d do his life in a mental hospital. It also points out that his pdocs MESSED UP BIG TIME, and this is where the lawsuits come in. The reason he messed up so much and shot John and Jane Doe, was that the University of CO was negligent in failing to hospitalize him. Once that is established by a NGRI in court, it’s almost a cookie cutter case for the lawyers to argue that UofCO was negligent. This “get the DA to prove our case for us” is used all the time!
        I would argue that it’s better to leave some reasonable doubt about what could have happened had they hospitalized James Holmes and then just left him in jail. Trust me, I believe he’s mentally ill, but I still believe he would get the best care there, and the public would be safe from a possible escape. He is not someone who should ever be on the streets again, and if you do the rights.ing, NGRI, it’s likely to happen in 30 years!

        • Dan

          The plea deal was not for him to plead NGRI (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity), it was just him pleading straight up guilty and would have ended with him going to prison for the rest of his life. The LAST thing the DA’s want is for James Holmes to be found NGRI at trial. That would be a massive loss for them because it would say his mental state impaired and he lacked the mental capacity to make rational decisions – he would then be excluded from the death penalty and would spend the rest of his life in the state hospital instead of prison.

          The DA’s are going for death for only reasons they know (“justice” is usually the argument). But to be clear, whatever the outcome of this case is – be it life in prison, life in the state mental hospital or even death – it will have very little influence on any civil suits filed against the University. As an example, look at the OJ Simpson case – he WON the criminal trial and completely lost the civil trial.

          • Alison

            That was the exception to the rule. The standard of guilt is lower in a civil trial. And believe it or not, your first few lines agree with me. No one can be that silly to think that “justice” is why they want the death penalty.
            But please, don’t bother me again with this. A fifteen year old in school is just too annoying to deal with online.

          • Dan

            Funny that you call me a 15yo – where in any of my replies to you did I say anything about you as a person or your intelligence? I agree that we agree on the basics of whats going on, but I disagree with you point in believing that the DAs are trying to get NGRI…that makes absolutly no sense whatsoever. They want death and death only. I said “justice” in quotes because that is what George Brauchler called it (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/us/prosecutors-seek-death-penalty-against-james-holmes.html?_r=0).

            So ask yourself now, whos really the child in our discussion?

  • Chris Castillo

    My mother was murdered in 1991 in Houston. The case was never solved. I was very sad to hear about the Aurora shooting. I have worked with many murder victim family members who sought justice. But, as what happens in many cases, the families become an afterthought. The wheels of justice start moving and nothing can stop it. The DA is often more interested in getting a Capital Murder conviction then finalizing the criminal trial for all those injured and killed. In Texas, I know that death penalty cases cost 2 to 3 times more than life in prison without the possibility of parole. Something is wrong here. I have a friend whose 9-year-old daughter was murdered. Her wounds were reopened each
    time the killer got another appeal in his case. Eventually, the man was put to death, but not without putting my friend through Hell. She is against the death penalty, because it takes families through the ringer for decades. She and I prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole. In my opinion – as a family member – it would help those involve move on with their lives by finalizing the legal process much sooner.

    • Aging Hipster

      When Charles Starkweather killed 10 people back in 1958, he was executed in 1959. When the “In Cold Blood” murders were committed in 1959, the killers were executed in 1965. These days, someone on death row has a decent chance of dying from old age. What’s that they say about justice delayed?

      • Dan

        So…your suggestion is that we revert back to the justice system of 50 years ago? Sounds good to me! Ahh yes, the good ol’ days of racial segregation, global poverty and massive corruption…those were the days!

        • Aging Hipster

          I never said that. I was pointing out that once guilt was established – and there was no question in either of these cases – the penalty was carried out. Not sure why you mentioned race – Hickok and Starkweather were white. So were Lowell Lee Andrews, George York and James Latham. You think we don’t have global poverty and massive corruption now?

          • Dan

            I mentioned racial segregation in relation to it being a pretty big issue in the 50’s/60’s – which is the time period you used in your examples. I could also use the example that in medieval times, people werent even given trials, and if they were deemed guilty, they would just get their heads chopped off. Unfortunately for both arguments, times have changed and we dont generally just kill people without affording them all the rights they are granted under the constitution and state statutes. Your suggestion is that “back in the day”, there really wasent an established appeals process and thus the death penalty was executed much quicker after conviction. Unfortunately, again, our society has advanced (slightly) in that after people are sentenced to death, they have much more resources and rights than they used to. Sorry if thats inconvenient for you, but as a law abiding citizen who has no intentions of killing anyone in the future, I would still never give up those right to make it “easier”. The appeals process, and all rights afforded to people who are facing a death sentence, is there for a reason – and if you cant see why, then you shouldnt even be involved with this argument..

          • Aging Hipster

            But there was an appeals process. All the convicts I mentioned had legal representation and made appeals. It was historically before the Miranda decision, and I’m not against that decision being implemented. In fact, the lack of Miranda may have caused Caril Fugate to spend such a big chunk of time in prison. But it’s not like there was no process back then.

        • mike

          Dan, your asinine drivel is pathetic….racial segregation and glbal poverty….get back in the ballgame son….you just let the whole town know you are a moron.

  • AntiquatedEyes

    James Holmes needs to be held in a secure psychiatric facility and NOT a prison! The man is seriously mentally ill!

  • Jon

    Condition of the DA accepting guilty plea from James Holmes is that he talks. Reason for the second mental exam is to get Holmes to talk. The DA is spending this money to try to get Holmes to talk.

  • Chris B.

    Again, the extreme liberal, and out-of-touch, editorial staff here at the Aurora Sentinel have exposed themselves and their anti-death penalty agenda. To suggest that our hippie-in-chief, Dem Gov. John Hickenlooper’s stay of Dunlap’s execution was “wise” is an affront to the families of those who died because of his rampage in Aurora. A duly sworn jury of his peers found him guilty in a court of law, and deemed him worthy of the death penalty. And after years and years of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. His execution, almost a year ago, would have brought the families of those poor victims true “closure.” But, Gov. Hickenlooper had to inject himself, and his liberal agenda, into a process that had already played out…all the way to the very top in our legal system. And now that wound is still open for many. Gov. Hickenlooper didn’t have to do or say anything; just let the will of people be done. So, shame on Gov. Hickenlooper for his cowardly act, and for denying the families of Dunlap’s victims their justice. I hope he loses BADLY in November.

    As for Aurora theater shooter James Homes.. Again, this editorial page is WAY out of touch. Their suggestion that there be some backroom plea deal made so as to avoid a lengthy, drawn out trial, is offensive. The families of the victims want their justice; not some deal. And, they know that the wheels of justice turn slowly. I have yet to talk to a single soul here in Aurora who was either in the theater, or knows someone who was there…who doesn’t think that waste of space doesn’t deserve the death penalty. So, hopefully the prosecution will resist your ridiculous, self-serving, cowardly stance…and pushes for the death penalty. If ever there was someone deserving of the death penalty, it is James Homes. Its time we stopped making excuses for evil, rationalizing the monetary costs of our legal system, and justifying such cowardly positions as advocated here by the editors.

  • john black

    If I were to do the same as Holmes….

    Firstly, I do not believe in the death penalty being British.

    No one can, or at least it is very difficult to determine how real the insanity plea of Holmes is. The reason I am writing this, and goodness do not take my statement as reasoning with any killer, what this man did brought tears to my eyes, however if I were to plan something like this mans did, I would have pre-planned the ‘get-out-clause’ similarly.

    – Organising visits to psychiatric visits prior, but appearing just over the line enough to manage in society
    – Researching similar cases in which insanity ruling was accepted
    – Dying my hair to appear visually incompetent mentally
    – Acting without real consciousness.

    It is going to be very difficult not to let this man get away with his plan if there is one, and even harder not to punish a human who may actually be seriously ill.

    • john black

      units rather than visits*