DENVER – Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes has offered to plead guilty and serve the rest of his life in prison to avoid the death penalty – a deal that would bring a swift end to the sometimes wrenching courtroom battle and circumvent a prolonged debate over his sanity.
Prosecutors haven’t said whether they would accept the offer, and victims and survivors of last summer’s massacre were divided on what should be done.
Melisa Cowden, whose ex-husband was killed in the theater, said Wednesday she was resolutely opposed to a plea deal.
“He didn’t give 12 people the chance to plea bargain and say, ‘Let’s see if you’re going to shoot me or not,’ ” said Cowden, whose two teenage daughters were with their father when he was killed.
“No. No plea bargain,” she said.
The attack during a crowded midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” left a dozen people dead and 70 injured.
Prosecutors have said Holmes planned the assault for months, casing the theater complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora, amassing a small arsenal and rigging potentially deadly booby-traps in his apartment. Then on July 20, he donned a police-style helmet and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the theater crowd and opened fire, prosecutors said.
The plea offer was disclosed in a defense court filing on Wednesday. It was made public just days before the prosecution was set to announce whether they would seek the death penalty.
The filing didn’t include the specifics of the offer. It said only that Holmes would agree to life in prison without parole – instead of the death penalty – and didn’t mention any other concessions.
Pierce O’Farrill, who was shot three times, said he would welcome an agreement that would imprison Holmes for life. The years of court struggles ahead would likely be emotionally stressful for victims, he said.
“I don’t see his death bringing me peace,” O’Farrill said.
Holmes was widely expected to enter an insanity plea at his arraignment on March 12, but his attorneys told District Judge William Sylvester they had too many questions about the constitutionality of Colorado’s death penalty and insanity statutes to advise Holmes on how to plead.
Sylvester then entered a plea of not guilty on Holmes’ behalf but said he could change it later to insanity if he chose. The judge scheduled the trial to start Aug. 5.