Prosecutors announce they will seek death penalty against theater shooting suspect James Holmes

AURORA, Colo. - Prosecutors announced Monday that they will seek the death penalty against Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes if he is convicted.

In court, District Attorney George Brauchler immediately announced, "It is my determination and intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death."

Holmes, a 25-year-old former University of Colorado graduate student in neuroscience, is charged with 166 counts in the July 20 massacre. The shooting, which occurred during a showing of the "The Dark Knight Rises," left 12 moviegoers dead and injured 70 people.

Brauchler said his office spoke with more than 800 victims before reaching that decision. Brauchler said he personally spoke to 60 family members of the 12 victims killed in the shooting spree.

Judge William Sylvester also issued an order reassigning the case. Sylvester said as chief justice of the 18th Judicial District he does not have time to hear a death penalty case. Instead Judge Carlos A. Samour, Junior, is expected to take over.

Samour set several deadlines for attorneys and scheduled multiple hearings and a new trial date. Some of the hearings are scheduled for several weeks including one in August and another in late November.

Samour scheduled the Holmes trial for February 3, 2014. Prosecutors suggested the trial might take three months, the defense team said it would likely take nine months. The judge scheduled the trial for four months.

"I'd like us to be aggressive, while at the same time doing it right," Samour said.

"This case is the most important matter that this courtroom and this courthouse will ever hear," said defense attorney Tamara Brady. "They are trying to execute our client."

Brady, who court watchers say is normally soft-spoken, was very adamant in stressing, "This is not an ordinary case."

Prosecutors technically had until mid-May to announce if they would seek the death penalty against Holmes. They had 60 days after the defendant enters a plea, which was done in mid-March. However, at that mid-March hearing, prosecutors said they would be ready to announce their decision at today's hearing.

Last month, there were a series of court filings from the defense team with contradicting information about what Holmes may plead in court. First, the defense team asked the judge to prepare a detailed list of consequences that would be read to Holmes if he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

However, when it came time for Holmes to enter a plea, the defense team said they weren't ready. Judge William Sylvester refused to delay the case. He entered the not guilty plea over the objections of defense attorneys.

Then last week, documents were released that indicated that Holmes’ defense made an offer to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

However, prosecutors filed a response that indicated they believed the guilty plea was a plot.

"The people question whether this language was included in the Defense Notice in good faith, or whether it was a calculated attempt to improperly inject the issue of the purported defense 'offer' into the public discourse regarding this case," prosecutors said in their response Thursday.

Family members of Aurora theater shooting victims told 7NEWS they had mixed feelings on whether the District Attorney should seek the death penalty against James Holmes.

"Is it gong to make anything better if he gets the death penalty? Probably not," said Jessica Watts, whose cousin, Jonathan Blunk, was killed in the mass shooting last July. "Because there's 12 people that are never coming back."

Over the last few weeks, Watts said the district attorney's office has been contacting her and other victims family members to gauge their positions on the ultimate punishment.

"I've been wavering, to be honest," said Watts. "It would be nice to spare us the pain of having to relive traumatic photos and testimony. But other people want to see hard-core justice brought down, and if it has to come down to it, the prosecution will definitely prove their case."

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