There are few things I’ve dreaded in my life like today’s start of the Aurora theater shooting trial.
For thousands of Aurora residents, the theatrical circus that opens Act One in a Centennial courtroom will be the only thing more painful than when James Holmes opened fire in the Century 16 theater July 20, 2012, and the agonizing days that followed.
The court quandary that begins today will not lead Aurora toward any sense of justice or truth. This trial is about how mentally ill someone has to be to win an insanity defense case in Colorado when they inflict so much carnage on a community.
This trial is about justifiable anger for the 12 lives that Holmes stole, the dozens of others he maimed and that untold hundreds he terrorized. This about revenge sought by those who lost children and friends inside that theater, revenge that I cannot say I wouldn’t want if my child had been murdered by Holmes. But justice? No.
This so-called search for justice is expected to take four months. Four months. We are going to torment Aurora with evidence that has little to do with Holmes’ guilt and everything to do with making a larger point about mental illness, insanity defenses and the death penalty. Because of the secrecy court officials have imposed over this bizarre and atrocious crime, we will have to be immersed in the theatrics of defense vs prosecution to unravel what compelled James Holmes to unleash so much horror. We’ve had to wait almost two years to find why Holmes’ parents, professors and everyone else he had contact with didn’t stop him while they could. We allowed the court system to hide all this information from the public because releasing it might have hampered efforts to ensure Holmes gets a “fair” trial.
Nothing about what is about to happen in Arapahoe County district court for the next four months has anything to do with fairness to anyone. This is all about the high stakes of a high-profile capital murder case. Fair would have been a complete and thorough accounting of how this happened, and what we can and will do to prevent it from happening again. We already know there are medical experts who recognized how mentally ill Holmes was after he was jailed, and that prosecutors then wanted to shop docs to get an answer that better fit their previously decided end-game.
So what we’ll see over the next few months won’t be a long-overdue analysis of what happened. Instead, we’ll be subjected to a months-long battle to manipulate the evidence, the jury and the rules to win a case.
In the end, there will be more lawsuits that require more secrecy to protect the integrity of the next round of trials against Holmes’ school, the University of Colorado, whomever treated and talked to him, the movie theater, the police, rescuers and probably even his parents.
No matter the outcome of this trial, Holmes will either spend decades in prison or even longer.
The odds of Holmes being executed are as good as the chances that anyone will feel satisfied when the jury delivers its verdict months from now.
Sadly, there’s no turning back from all this. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler was elected on a stand that favors the death penalty, and he promised it in this case — even before he and his team knew just how mentally ill Holmes was.
So almost every day for the next four months, we will wallow in Holmes’ madness and the unthinkable crimes he committed. Aurora will relive that terror almost daily for weeks to come. Because it’s fair. And this is justice?
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