For James Holmes, “justice is death,” prosecutors said Monday in announcing they will seek his execution if he is convicted in the Colorado movie-theater attack that killed 12 people.
The decision — disclosed in court just days after prosecutors publicly rejected Holmes’ offer to plead guilty if they took the death penalty off the table — elevated the already sensational case to a new level and could cause it to drag on for years.
“It’s my determination and my intention that in this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” District Attorney George Brauchler said, adding that he had discussed the case with 60 people who lost relatives in the July 20 shooting rampage by a gunman in a gas mask and body armor during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie.
There was no audible reaction from the 25-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, who sat with his back to reporters, or from victims’ families in the courtroom. Holmes’ parents sat side by side in the gallery, clutching hands with fingers intertwined.
The decision had been widely predicted by legal analysts.
Within minutes of its becoming official, the trial was pushed back from August to next February, and Judge William B. Sylvester removed himself from the case, saying that now that the charges carry the death penalty, they will take years to resolve and he does not have the time to devote to such a drawn-out matter.
Legal observers said Holmes’ lawyers publicly offered a guilty plea in what may have been a bid to gain support among victims’ families for a deal that would spare them a painful trial and lengthy appeals.
The prosecution and the defense could still reach a deal before the case goes to trial.