What Oregonians can learn from the Colorado jury that sentenced James Holmes to life in prison

By Jeff Ellis of Portland, Oregon. Jeff is an attorney and a board member of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

In response to the life without parole sentence that a jury returned on Friday for James Holmes, who killed twelve people and injured many more in a Aurora, Colorado movie theater, the prosecutor stated: “I'm not disappointed with the system. I still think death is justice for what that guy did but the system said otherwise.” Despite the virtual unparalleled magnitude of his crimes, after hearing all of the testimony, viewing all of the evidence, listening to the family members of the victims, and carefully considering the alternatives, jurors decided that imprisoning James Holmes for the rest of his life was the right and just result.

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty agree with Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. Over the last year, the “system” has consistently rejected the death penalty in favor of life without parole. No one has been sentenced to death in Oregon this year. Our neighbors in King County, Washington recently simultaneously prosecuted three death penalty cases at costs exceeding $15 million dollars. When jurors returned life verdicts in the first two cases, the prosecutor wisely removed the possibility of the death penalty in the third. Even in Texas, the so-called capital of capital punishment, not a single death sentence has been rendered this year. The overwhelming majority of county prosecutors understand this message. Only two percent of this country’s counties are responsible for the majority of the death sentences leading to executions since 1976.

The community is speaking loud and clear. The Colorado jury closed the book on the James Holmes case. If that jury had imposed a death sentence, decades of appeals would have followed with hearing after hearing exposing the emotional wounds of victims and family members. Because of the jury verdict James Holmes will not be a regular feature on the nightly news. He will die in prison without any fanfare.

In Oregon, we would be wise to learn from what the “system” is saying. After all, we are the “system.” We do not need the death penalty, even for the worst crimes. As Jordan Ghawl, whose sister Jessica was killed by James Holmes, “3 years of anguish and $5 million for a verdict that the defense had already agreed to. Imagine what the $5 million” could do for mental health services in Colorado. Life in prison is a better and smarter alternative.

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