Even the sets are nearly ready for what’s certain to be one of the biggest, most sorrowful productions ever to open in Colorado: The Aurora Theater Shooting Trial of James Holmes.
The pile of potential jurors grows, and the opening act — I mean arguments — is getting warmed up for the April 27 premier. Welcome to the Saddest Show on Earth.
Last week, prosecutors told Judge Carlos Samour Jr. that the court was going to have to figure out how to physically accommodate a scaled set of the Century 16 Theater. That’s where Holmes slaughtered 12 people, wounding another 70, and terrorizing hundreds more. Later, prosecutors told Samour they wanted photos of the grisly crime scene planned for the jury, hidden from the public.
Get ready for some serious theater, folks.
Don’t be mistaken that what’s barreling down on this Arapahoe County courtroom is some form of sophisticated justice. It’s billed as an attempt to hold Holmes accountable for his monstrous crime. But Holmes already confessed. He did it. All of it.
The trial is supposed to settle whether Holmes was so mentally ill that he was unable to know how vile and despicable his actions were. Or, the jury will decide whether Holmes viciously pulled off the heinous crime because, well, we don’t know yet why prosecutors think Holmes was anything but whack-job crazy. That will be the surprise ending of the show.
Prosecutors’ job is to make sure the jury sees Holmes as a mildly sick, inhuman freak who was able to plot and carry out this outrage, just like the rest of us would, if we were as sick as Holmes. Mildly sick that is. For months, prosecutors have been analyzing the best way to persuade the jury to reject an insanity argument, and instead, send Holmes to death row for about 30 years, and most likely many decades beyond that. This is all at a cost of tens of millions of dollars for the first show, and then the endless revivals during decades to come while society houses Holmes on death row.
Here’s the thing. Prosecutors determined that Holmes wasn’t crazy early on, long before a mountain of evidence was collected about whether he really is, or was, straight-jacket nuts when he opened fire in that theater. Do you really think any prosecutor would have the nerve to back off a death-penalty case after the gauntlet was thrown? Of course not.
Now, the district attorney’s office is working on a way to horrify the jury. Make them angry and repulsed so that they, too, will want to see revenge carried out against Holmes. He’ll be painted as an unlikeable, calculating bully with no limits.
And the defense? Watch closely during the trial as the jury watches his lawyers smile at Holmes, touch his arm, tell stories about kind and normal things Holmes did all his life. They want to horrify the jury, too. Not with details about the crime, although that, too, could easily work in their favor because most rational people would believe you would have to be really whacked out to create such repugnant death and destruction. The defense will have endless, horrifying tales about how deranged and sick Holmes was, and how no one intervened and stopped him from what he told so many he wanted to do.
No, I haven’t been privy to the case, and I’m not a clairvoyant. This is how these trials go, and this show-boat will be no exception.
The defense’s job is to select one juror, find one person, probably a woman, and appeal to that one juror to pull away from the herd mentality and stand firm that Holmes would have to have been insane to do such a monstrous thing. That even if that one juror believed they should be endowed with the power of life and death, inflicting it on Holmes does nothing to make Aurora safer, to bring back the dead or in any way provide retribution to so many people he made suffer.
Any trial and jury consultant in the country, some of whom have been paid handsomely to consult for both sides in this case, will reveal that trials like this aren’t about getting to the truth, it’s about using theatrics, psychology and research to get jurors to take their side and stick with it.
The stakes are monumental. Republican District Attorney George Brauchler is a likely candidate for Colorado governor in 2018. It could be spectacularly bad for him if he loses this case, allowing Holmes to maybe walk free some day. But it would be easy to blame the jury later, rather than let Holmes plead and take forever in prison as punishment for his crime.
That would never do. So, places everyone. The show must go on.
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