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Aurora movie theater gunman James Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison after a Colorado jury on Friday failed to unanimously agree to sentence him to death for killing 12 people more than three years ago.
The nine-woman, three-man jury returned after less than seven hours of deliberations with the understanding that their lack of a decision would mean Holmes would not be sentenced to death but rather, life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A deliberating juror who only identified herself as "juror 17" said the jury ended deliberations after a lone juror made it clear she would not budge from her opposition to death for Holmes. Two others were "on the fence," she told reporters.
"We ended our deliberations when one absolutely would not move," she said. "I feel that we really truly did our best to come to a proper verdict," juror 17, who said she was not the holdout, said.
The same jury rejected an insanity defense in July and found Holmes guilty of 24 counts of murder — two for each person he killed on July 20, 2012.
District Attorney George Brauchler said Friday that he was disappointed when the verdicts were read.
“It’s not personal disappointment,” he said. “It’s the disappointment of hearing it in those soft sobs and those moans of those family members of the people we can’t ever see again.”
“This is a position that I didn’t know I’d find myself in,” he said before reading the names and ages of the twelve who died. He choked up when he read the name of the youngest victim, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6.
“Nothing about the jury's sentence changes what happened to them or how it impacts their families,” Brauchler said. But the district attorney said he respected the decision of the jurors, saying they “did a hell of a job.”
Brauchler had argued that death was "the only appropriate sentence." Twelve people were killed and 70 others were injured when Holmes opened fire during the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises."
The jury had swiftly ruled that there were substantial "aggravating factors" to consider the death penalty for Holmes, and that the defense's arguments against execution didn't outweigh those factors.
The family of some victims reacted with anger.
Robert Sullivan, whose six-year-old granddaughter Veronica Moser-Sullivan was killed in the attack, said the verdict has made his pain worse.
"He’s living, he’s breathing, and our loved ones are gone — for over three years now," Sullivan said after the verdict. "And the gaping void, the gaping wound that we have with the loss of our granddaughter, has been replaced by a new abscess of him living."
Sullivan said he couldn't understand how the jury could vote to convict Holmes, then vote to keep the death penalty as an option, and then fail to reach a unanimous decision. "It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t believe it," he said.
Brauchler said he apologized to the victims' families. Many of those who spoke to reporters after the verdict, including those who did not want a death sentence, said they appreciated Brauchler's efforts during the trial.
Survivors and families of the twelve victims were not in complete agreement over whether Holmes should receive the death penalty. Some called it the only just sentence, while others feared years of appeals that typically follow a death penalty ruling.
The jurors were discharged with the thanks of the court, and the judge freed them from the restrictions imposed during the months-long trial in which they endured often-grueling testimony from survivors and victims’ families.
Survivors shared their accounts of the horrific scene and the lasting physical and emotional effects of the massacre. Victims’ family members delivered heart-wrenching recollections of loved ones lost and missed.
Defense attorneys said that the shooting was the result of a psychotic breakdown suffered by a mentally ill man and said the death penalty was not a suitable sentence for someone diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said his thoughts were with those who were impacted by the “unspeakable tragedy.”
“No verdict can bring back what they have lost but we hope they begin to find peace and healing in the coming weeks,” he said in a statement.
Formal sentencing is set to begin on Aug. 24. It is expected to last three days. Survivors and victims’ family members will be given a chance to speak, as will Holmes. Holmes repeatedly declined to testify during the trial, and did not make a statement during the penalty phase.