Aurora Colorado Shooting

Why Prosecutors Should Push for Life in Prison–Not the Death Penalty–for James Holmes

The Illusory Value of the Death Penalty


After deciding to pursue the execution of the man charged with fatally shooting 12 people in a Colorado movie theater last summer, the prosecutor declared that "for James Egan Holmes, justice is death." By that definition, he might have added, justice is also highly unlikely.


Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler might have resolved this case quickly, simply and inexpensively. Holmes' lawyers say their client would be willing to plead guilty for a sentence of life without parole. But the prosecutor declined.

Not much should be made of this announcement, since he has plenty of time and many reasons to change his mind. Arizona prosecutors had no apparent qualms about a plea bargain with Jared Loughner, who agreed to spend the rest of his life behind bars for killing six people and wounding 13 others in Tucson.

Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head, and her husband approved the deal. The Wall Street Journal reported that "victims and their families largely welcomed" it.

It's not hard to see why. A plea bargain may deprive them of the satisfaction of seeing the killer pay the ultimate price, but it avoids years of uncertainty and frustration. If we know anything about the death penalty in this country, it's that there is nothing swift or sure about it.

Colorado is less than zealous in its commitment to this particular sanction. The state has executed only one person since the death penalty was restored in 1975—and he'd been on Death Row for 10 years. One current resident was sentenced in1996.

Nationally, it takes an average of nearly 13 years for a death sentence to be carried out. Holmes could be condemned to die and still be breathing oxygen in 2030.

Getting a conviction and death sentence is no cinch. His lawyers are expected to ask for his acquittal on grounds of insanity. Holmes saw a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Denver while he was a student there, and a gun range refused to do business with him because the owner found him "creepy." Even if a jury is not willing to find Holmes innocent, it may decline to execute someone with serious mental problems.

If the prosecutors insist on going to trial, the public will need an excess of patience. The presiding judge stepped aside because of other duties, forcing postponement of the trial until next February at the earliest.

Holmes' lawyers want to put it off till the summer or fall of 2014. The trial is supposed to take four months, though the defense says it could go on for nine. So a verdict may be more than two years away.

By that time, many stacks of taxpayer money will be gone. A capital murder trial costs far more than a non-capital one, because of the extra sentencing proceeding, the special protections mandated by law and the huge amount of time required.

The Death Penalty Information Center notes that the difference can exceed $1 million. And the additional cost may be wasted, since "only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence" and "only one in 10 death sentences handed down may result in an execution."

Given diminishing public enthusiasm for capital punishment, there is no guarantee that if Holmes wound up on Death Row, the sentence would ever be carried out. Michael Radelet, a professor with the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, notes that a future governor could decide to commute all outstanding death sentences—as Illinois Gov. George Ryan did. "The odds that he'll be killed are about the same as the odds of a snowstorm in Orlando tonight," he told me.

Death penalty advocates will argue that prosecutors owe it to the victims and their families to demand the death penalty. But that path offers cold comfort.

Marilyn Peterson Armour of the University of Texas at Austin and Mark Umbreit of the University of Minnesota conducted interviews with families of murder victims in Texas, which has capital punishment, and Minnesota, which doesn't. Those in Minnesota, they found, "show higher levels of physical, psychological and behavioral health"—apparently because "the appeals process in Texas was drawn out, elusive, delayed and unpredictable."

Prosecutors can put Coloradans through that maddening process in the Holmes case. Or they can save everyone a lot of trouble by locking him up for good.

NEXT: West Virginia City Facing Lawsuit for Denying FOIA Request Related to Fatal Police Shooting

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  1. Some things are worth the price and having this sack of shit cease to exist is one of them.

    1. The price is that Cameron Todd Willingham is also dead. Still worth it?

      1. Totally. Because separate cases 20 years apart completely analogous. ZOMG! DEATH PENALTY!

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    2. You know, I think we should just let guys like this out into genpop…or…we give them a way to kill themselves…I think either of those two could be a much worse punishment. Or we could make them play russian roulette every morning, I’m just spitballing here.

  2. He did it, there is no doubt he did it. Give him his trial. Convict him. Take him out the next day and hang him. Problem solved.

    1. There is plenty of doubt. There were multiple shooters there (eye witnesses, & blood trails), no one saw him in the theater (shooter wearing gas mask), he was drugged to the gills when captured, why tell of booby trapped apartment which he had no way of rigging, sudden mental collapse. Plenty. Of. Doubt.

      This will be heresy to the cosmotarian crowd here, but there is ample evidence that the Feds have long been able to program assassins. Yeah, I said it. Mind Kontrol.

      1. The chemtrails made him do it.

        1. Strawman, ad hominem, and fuck you.

          1. You’re way behind the times. We use brain control now, much more sophisticated.

          2. Come on man, what do you expect with that tin hat theory. Lots of crazy shit became less crazy with credible evidence. Show us the evidence.

            1. Kyfho is a 9/11 truther, just FYI.

  3. Even if a jury is not willing to find Holmes innocent, it may decline to execute someone with serious mental problems.

    This is so stupid, but I guess it fits with the whole “only intentions matter” crowd.

    1. I never got the he’s a mentally defective killer, therefor we need to keep him alive argument.

      If anything, someone murdering because they’re mentally defective makes the death penalty more justifiable.

      1. One of the elements of murder is that the death was knowingly or intentionally killed by the defendant. If the defendant isn’t capable of forming intent, then legally their homicide was not a murder.

        1. Which would be relevant if he hadn’t already been judged competent to stand trial, which entails the ability to form intent in the eyes of the court.

      2. Don’t y’all know, the mentally ill are more VALUABLE than us “sane” people!?!?! Sane people are part of the patriarchical oppressor-capitalistic-pig crowd, and mentally ill people are oppressed, therefore more VALUABLE than you and me!!!

  4. Dead criminals can’t be paroled.

    1. Or escape.Or get new trials where they plead insanity.

      1. Or kill their non violent cell mates that are serving time for non crime crimes.

        1. Or taunt their victims’ families for kicks.

          1. Or call in a hit from behind bars

            1. Or have a forensic psychiatric evaluation that (like Sirhan Sirhan) shows evidence of mind control.

              1. Your controller is forcing you to say that.

      2. escape

        Watching too much Prison Break. Prisons are ridiculously hard to get out of.

  5. Or they can save everyone a lot of trouble by locking him up for good.

    They could have saved everyone even more trouble by shooting him in the parking lot when they caught him.

    1. And then the dog back at his apartment.

  6. The guy is completely fucking nuts. I speculate that he would barely have a clue what was happening and why.

    Still, there is little doubt as to his guilt. This may be a textbook case of a crime deserving the death penalty, but I am still not for it. The state has fucked this up too many times.

    I advised my son many time when he was growing up ” Dont break things you cant fix, dont take things you cant put back.”. Good advice for him, good advice for the state.

    1. When you say “little doubt” what gets your evaluation off the “no doubt” position?

      1. Dude, we didn’t actually see him blazing away in the theater with our own eyes.

        Remember how they framed Dr Richard Thorndyke in High Anxiety.

        1. see earlier post.

          NO ONE saw him. The shooters were wearing gas masks. Yes, I said shooters. Witnesses report more than one. Witnesses report assistance in entering through the fire exit.

          For God’s sake, folks, look around a bit and don’t take NPRs word for everything.

          1. Pics (links) or it didn’t happen. No Limbaugh pls.

    2. I definatly think that there should at least be minimum evidence requirements to even seek the death penalty. But I think this guy would pass any evidence test. Multiple unrelated witnesses I would think would be enough and of course there is plenty of other evidence against him as well.

  7. This guy is a poster child for the death penalty. You can’t put his face up there and expect to have a sober debate.

  8. Tough crowd!

    Not a fan of the DP, but I think the “it’s too protracted and expensive argument” is a cop-out. The reason the death penalty is too protracted and expensive is that opponents delay the process. Maybe it’s good, from an anti-death penalty perspective, that they do so, but I am uncomfortable about the people who are blocking the DP turning around and saying, “see? It’s just too costly!”

    1. I came hear to say this. Carry on.

    2. The death penalty appeals process is costly and time-consuming because the courts are so inundated with thousands of other bullshit cases. If they reduced the case load by not prosecuting people for non-violent drug crimes or victimless crimes like prostitution, speeding (assuming it’s heard in front of an actual judge and not just magistrate or hearing officer), etc. the judges would have much more time to hold trials and appellate hearings on death penalty cases.

      I oppose the death penalty because it gives the state too much power, but the appeals process is necessary to curb that power to some extent, and that is a good thing.

      (basically I agree with you… don’t want it to seem like I’m opposed to what you said)

    3. Also, where is the calculation of a lifetime in prison? It’s probably more than a million bucks, with food, healthcare etc.

  9. Posted this the other day. How about this guy.…..eeks-mercy

    1. This is why we need to bring back lynching.

      1. I can’t tell if SIV is serious when he says that. I mean, it’s insane, but I can actually see him thinking that only silly “COSMOTARIANS!” would object to it

        1. If you weren’t such a clueless noob you’d know I have long supported lynching. What do you do with heinous criminals w/o a state?

    2. I vote for Impalement!

      1. Defenestration.

        Sears Tower in Chicago would be about right size for it.

        1. I haven’t seen that word since my two semesters of Latin.

          +2 points!

    3. A trip through the wood chipper at half speed. Feet first, of course.

  10. Yes, Holmes is clearly, obviously guilty. But “only when they’re clearly, obviously guilty” is a really bad standard for the death penalty if you’re opposed because of false positives. How many prosecutors told juries that Stephen Hayne’s testimony showed that a defendant was clearly, obviously guilty? And how many jurors bought it?

    1. This. Too many idiots have been convinced by NCIS and all the other cop procedurals that “experts” don’t get anything wrong.

  11. We do not need more prisons; we need more cemeteries!

  12. I get paid over $87 per hour with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Here is what I’ve been doing

  13. You know what? I don’t care at all whether he gets the death penalty or not.

  14. Fine, what do you do with the bastard? He can never be let out. He would last five minutes in general population before someone killed him. Is locking him an cell alone, heavily medicated for 23 hours a day really anymore humane than the death penalty? Killing this loser really should qualify as a mercy killing.

    1. My objection (really the objection) to capital punishment has nothing to do with it’s humaneness. Rather it’s the likelihood that the state will fuck up and kill an innocent person.

      Holmes is guilty as fuck and deserves to be locked in a tiny room and given the bare minimum required to live, for as long as his natural life will allow. That is real punishment. Killing him is indeed a mercy, because that’s the end of the world for the person dying. No more suffering.

      Punishment is what it is. The bonus is that, in 20 years some evidence comes to light that it was a GUVMINT CONSPERASY, he’s still alive and can be granted clemency.

      1. Why can’t we be merciful in our punishments? I always find it amusing the way some abolitionists make the point that life in prison is so horribly cruel that we should prefer it to execution.

        1. Depends on the definition of mercy. Any legal system must involve punishment, esp. considering Holmes does not have assets to make restitution to anyone.

          1. There’s no adequate restitution to be made to the victim of a murder. That only really works for property crimes.

  15. I think it’s great that there are people out there who will stick up for this guy’s rights.

    I guess I can stick up for this guy’s rights insofar as they’re my rights, too, but it’s a purely intellectual exercise.

    He really should plead insanity.

    1. He should plead insanity and then be put down like a rabid dog.

      1. Meh. I’m a lot more worried about rabies than nutjob murderers.

      2. Yeah, I can’t say I’ll feel sorry for him–no matter what happens to him.

        I guess this is where my libertarianism meets the road. It’s easy to stand up for the rights of people we like.

        But it really shouldn’t be about whether we like them. Like I said, his rights are my rights, too, and I care about what happens to them–even if I don’t care about what happens to him.

  16. The cost and time, the wishes of the victims, and society’s desire for vengeance are irrelevant. The way I see it, the state just doesn’t have the moral authority to kill somebody that it has rendered harmless. Our modern prison system makes it extremely unlikely that this guy will ever get out. The general public is now protected from this person. If the justification for passing criminal laws and locking people in prisons is to protect the general public from dangerous people, then there is no justification for taking this persons life.

    1. I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here, but what about the safety of the other inmates? You mentioned the “general public,” but what of those who are caged in with a lunatic? Is their protection not more of a state responsibility than that of the general public?

      1. You think they’ll stick this guy in with Genpop?

        1. Based on the ineptitude of the penal system, I really can’t answer that question definitively.

          1. Really depends, but in a high-profile case like Holmes he’ll almost certainly go into solitary, unless the prisons are so overcrowded by the time he’s convicted that it’s an impossibility.

    2. So you are going to lock him up forever. Okay. How do you deter him from committing further bad acts? How do you keep him from victimizing people in jail or his jailers? He is never getting out. So he has nothing to lose.

      And how is locking a person in a cell 23 hours a day for decades any more humane or less depriving of rights than killing that person. Yeah, murder is bad. But there are fates worse than death. And living your life in a supermax is probably one of them.

      1. If somebody offers me the choice of being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day vs being executed, I’ll take the cell.

        1. I agree. I think people really underestimate the will to live, even in total misery.

        2. Look up what supermax is actually like and you might change your mind.

          Beyond that, it doesn’t answer the problem of how to control such people. The only way to control them is to engage in what amounts to enormous cruelty. I am having a hard time seeing how subjecting them to a life of horrible and cruel punishment is not just as bad or worse than killing them.

          1. I think that the big issue is the permanence of the death penalty. In this case, no one is too worried about that. But as you say, bad cases make bad law. And there are too many death penalty cases that are not this obvious.

          2. It strikes me as a false choice: absolute misery so awful that it is cruel vs execution. The ability exists to make conditions less cruel while maintaining safety.

            1. The ability exists to make conditions less cruel while maintaining safety.

              Not really.

              1. I don’t know. The descriptions I have read of the horrors of solitary confinement always seem unnecessarily squalid and horrible.

                1. Again depends. Some are tiny cells, some give you room to move around. Some have glass, some have stone. Some you can request a book, some you cannot.

                  All deprive you of social contact, which can do incredibly terrible things to the brain of a social animal. Even the most anti-social person cannot spend an entire life in solitude.

              2. Uh, yeah it does. One of the reasons Supermax prisons are so horrible is that they are usually set up to deprive the prisoner of stimulation.

                You could easily let them read, let them watch television, reduce the harshness of the lighting, and even let them socialize with other prisoners under heavy supervision while maintaining safety.

                1. You could easily let them read, let them watch television, reduce the harshness of the lighting, and even let them socialize with other prisoners under heavy supervision while maintaining safety.

                  Fuck that. People get worse than that for being grounded.

                  There’s zero question he did the killing. Execute him and throw him in a shallow grave.

                  1. The question isn’t whether or not he did the killing. The question is whether or not the killing was a murder.

                    1. There is no question he is a murderer

                2. Why? The people they killed don’t get to read or watch television. The people they killed don’t get to socialize.

                  The people they killed don’t get to do anything.

                  The murderer forfeits his life when he takes the life of another.

                  1. I answered your question above: I don’t think the state has the moral authority to take the life of a person who has been rendered harmless.

                    I place a very high value on human life and I have a very narrow view of what I think constitutes legitimate government action.

                    1. You apparently have a much looser view of harmlessness. If it would have been appropriate for any of the individuals in the theatre that night to kill him, having the state do it isn’t remarkably different, morally speaking.

    3. Ah, yes, the LWOP dodge (Life With Out Parole). Inmates can still kill guards, other prisoners, and arrange to have their co-conspirators in or out of prison kill people even outside prison. What’s to stop JH from joining a prison gang & causing more havoc on the inside?

  17. I said this on the “Nidal Hasan can’t get the death penalty” thread: If someone confesses to a capital crime and asks to be executed, we should honor their wish. Anything shy of that, and you run into some moral issues in my opinion.

    Bu as someone stated above, this guy is the posted boy for the death penalty an it’s impossible to have a sober debate about it with him at the center of it.

    1. Bad cases make bad law.

    2. Same here. If a convicted killer thinks life in solitary is a fate worse than death, let him choose death, and the state can assist. Otherwise, the state should keep him locked up but not kill him.

      1. What gave him the right to make that choice?

        1. I don’t know. What gives the court the right to make that choice?

          1. His being a murderous lunatic. Sorry but if you are murdering piece of shit, you can’t really complain when the rest of society takes your rights away.

            What gave that fuck the right to decide those people needed to die?

            1. Nothing gives him that right. But I don’t think anyone has the right to kill in cold blood, including the government.

              1. I’m not sure what the term “in cold blood” means to you, but if you’re using it in the traditional sense of remorselessness or emotional detachment, that’s really the only appropriate context for killing a murderer. If you don’t think anyone has that right, I’d be really, really curious about your moral justification for lethal self defense.

            2. What gave that fuck the right to decide those people needed to die?

              Nothing. That’s why he is awaiting trial for multiple charges.

        2. So you’re against assisted suicide being legal then? Because that’s what this amounts to.

          1. Right, because favoring the state obliterating the rights of someone who has demonstrably done the same to others is based on the exact same moral underpinning as opposing a right to die for a person of sound mind who has committed no crime…

      2. Why does he get any choice? His victim got none, why do you extend to the criminal the thing he took from the victim?

  18. I’d like to see what happens in the trial.

  19. So instead of only 13 years of wasting taxpayers money on this monster, Chapman wants us to pay for him for 40 years (plus or minus)? I think not.

    1. But far less money is spent on appeals that will probably lead nowhere. If he pleads guilty and accepts life in prison, he can’t exactly appeal that decision very easily, whereas going to trial and being convicted and sentenced to death leaves years of appeals open to him.

  20. The thing with Holmes is he is not so obviously mentally ill as Jared Loughner was. There are no bizarre YouTube ramblings about grammer and mind control. Plus Holmes seems to have been clearly motivated by a desire to make himself famous, while Loughner was only motivated by his own delusional hatred of Giffords. Holmes appears to be a narcissist, not a schizophrenic, and while schizophrenics are clearly living in an alternate reality, narcissists do not have hallucinations and are entirely capable of understanding moral right from wrong.

    It’s POSSIBLE that Holmes actually is a schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur, but there are no media or psychologist reports yet that provide evidence of him exhibiting schizophrenia like symptoms.

    1. this is NONSENSE. Widen your perspective. Roll & Giffords were meeting to talk about Fast & Furious. YouTube the Aurora shooting. Find out what the people at the scene said. The only sources you’re using are from the government. THE GOVERNMENT. Don’t you feel that maybe, just maybe, they don’t have your best interests at heart? That maybe, it’s possible that they might kinda sorta stretch the truth a teensy weensy itty bitty bit?

  21. I get tired of talk about the mental illness of murderers. The main point of the death penalty is as a deterrent. Even if a murderer is mentally ill, giving him the death penalty still serves that function to those who respond to deterrents. The state does not work as a rehabilitation center.

    1. Yeah, the deterrent is working great so far.

    2. Studies have shown that any deterrent effect is dependent on how swift and certain the punishment is. The protections built into our legal system reduce that swiftness and certainty to the point that there is little deterrent effect left. Having said that, I think Holmes is akin to a rabid animal that should be put down as quickly as possible.

      1. I agree that our legal system needs to change. For example, I like the ancient Hebrew method of only convicting an accused murderer with the testimonies of two eyewitnesses.

        The current system seems to be swift justice only if society at large really hates the guy. That isn’t justice in the true sense of the word.

    3. In Indiana the State does work as a rehabilitation center. It’s in the constitution.

    4. The whole point of the death penalty is retribution.

  22. So, make executions swift & certain, problem solved.

    1. Yeah, because speeding up the process of killing a person will ensure no one innocent dies because of prosecutorial misconduct, false/insufficient evidence, etc.

      Life in prison is the absolute most power a state should have in civil cases. War is the only place a state should have the power to kill, and that SHOULD require Congressional authorization.

  23. I say off with his head, and use a very dull blade!

    1. SumpTump, you are the only spam-bot I like.

  24. I’m sorry, but the guy clearly did it.

    I’m against the death penalty in 99% of cases, where there could be doubt and when there is only a single murder (so as to give criminals a reason not to murder more than one person).

    But in this case, there is no doubt whatsoever, and he killed a bunch of people..

    One of the books that introduced me to LIbertarianism was F. Paul Wilson’s Healer book, part of the LaNague Confederation universe. The main character visits a libertarian planet and is immediately confronted by a criminal (who had assaulted someone) being whipped in public, because the planet had no prisons.

    1. What ever happened to restitution as the Libertarian solution? Of course, with murder you’d need to bring down Jesus to raise the dead and pay His fees, but why shouldn’t the surviving family enjoy the fruits of the murderers labor for the rest of his life? It’s not total recompense, but it’s something, right?

      1. Because the future labor of this individual will likely have no value, let alone the ridiculously high value that each of his victims bore to the people who lost them. It would be like fining the shipyard worker the $400 million and calling it good. We all know he’ll never see that much money in a hundred lifetimes.

      2. The only labor a guy like Holmes could engage in would be very limited in value, and wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of guarding/supervising him.

        Again, the state should shoulder the cost of locking him up. You don’t have to make it comfortable to him. It’s not meant to be a vacation.

    2. You’re not sorry, you populist dumbass. Appease harder next time.

  25. I appreciate reason’s ability to maintain consistent opposition to the death penalty, but seriously fuck this guy.

    1. I’m only opposed to the state monopoly on the death penalty.

      1. Maybe my issue is related, my concern is the government power to execute a citizen regardless of whether or not it is a morally justified killing. A power granted the State is a power abused. I’d prefer the government have as few and as limited powers to abuse as possible. Do we really think the socialist slavers can’t find ways to use the criminal justice system? Constitutional? Harder to abuse a power you don’t first have.

        1. Is it a moral question to ask what the value of life is? There should be no question as to what price 12 lives are worth. At least the death penalty is filtered through 12 jurors, unlike targeted drone strikes.

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  27. Leaving aside the merits of the death penalty, this guy has already agreed to plead guilty. The only reason the DA is pushing for the death penalty is so that he can take it to trial, and make a name for himself. It is not about justice or anything else, other than his own career and political aspirations.

    1. Bingo. (although there are many other selfish individuals in play here)

  28. I began this 9-months ago and immediately was bringing home over $83 per-hr. I follow the details

  29. The death penalty is such a waste. I could think of much more creative and useful punishments. Organ harvesting and human experiments come to mind.

  30. I agree the death penalty is not the deterrent we wish it to be. Crazies like Holmes see themselves going out in a blaze of glory, martyrs, to be remembered as notable individuals, regardless of the reason for their notoriety. How can we send them to well-deserved anonymity? Does a portion of blame accrue to the media for breathlessly reporting on their trials or other post-carnage exploits? I’ve speculated that should someone invade my home I would shoot them not in the head nor in the heart, but in the groin, or if forced into hand-to-hand combat, would attempt to gouge their eyes out. Better a blind eunuch wandering the streets as a bad example, than a dead hero.

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