"He's my son and we always got along very well"
(CENTENNIAL, Colo.) — The father of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes took the stand Tuesday as defense lawyers try to persuade jurors to spare his life.
Robert Holmes has attended every day of his son’s trial along with his wife, Arlene, but the couple has not spoken publicly since before the trial, when they begged for a plea deal to spare his life.
Holmes said he supports his son and still loves him, saying he was an “excellent kid.”
“Well he’s my son and we always got along very well,” he said when asked to explain.
Robert Holmes said he didn’t know about mental illness in the family until after his son killed 12 people and injured 70 others in the July 2012 attack on a movie theater audience in suburban Denver.
“I assumed he might be depressed,” but never knew his son had homicidal or suicidal thoughts after breaking up with a girlfriend and dropping out of school, Robert Holmes said.
While Holmes was found legally sane at the time of the attack, his defense is hoping at least one juror will agree that his mental illness reduces his moral culpability so much that he deserves the mercy of a life sentence instead.
Death sentences must be unanimous, and the judge has explained to jurors that their decision will be highly personal.
So the defense has a two-fold task during this phase of Holmes’ sentencing: They must show the jury that Holmes was deeply mentally ill, even if legally sane, and they must give jurors reasons to be merciful.
On the first point, the defense brought back the same court-appointed psychiatrist who found Holmes was legally sane during the attack, this time to say that it was severe mental illness that drove Holmes to kill.
“Having psychosis doesn’t take away your capacity to make choices. It may increase your capacity to make bad choices,” Dr. Jeffrey Metzner testified Monday. “He acted on his delusions, and that’s a reflection of the severity of his mental illness.”
On the second, they introduced a series of friends and family to show that even this killer was loved once, and has people who still care for him.
Lori Bidwell recalled Tuesday how “Jimmy” helped celebrate Halloween with them each year in California. She said he was quiet, smart and good-humored. The families went rafting together when Holmes was 21, and Bidwell recalled how he laughed and watched sea otters.
“When I first heard it on the news, I called because I thought this can’t be possible,” said Bidwell said.
A college friend, Harry Soren Carr, described Holmes as introverted, but with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and said he didn’t make fun of other people.
Chris Holmes, 22, became the first in her family to testify on Monday. She described a jail visit two years after the attack, saying he was no longer the loving brother who protected her as they were growing up.
“His whole demeanor seemed different,” she said. “His eyes, they were almost bugging out of his head.”
But she still loves him, she said, and will still visit, and probably send him a birthday card each year in prison. “It will be up to me when my parents pass away, so I do want to do that.”
Holmes’ lawyers say the once-promising neuroscience student should get life without parole rather than be executed for the 12 murders. He also injured 70 others at the crowded midnight movie in July 2012.
Holmes had no visible reaction to his sister, who sat just feet from the defense table where he has been tethered to the floor.