James Holmes trial: Tears, then prosecution rests; insanity defense next

Updated 9:03 PM EDT, Sat June 20, 2015
03:26 - Source: CNN
Testimony from Aurora victim closes prosecution's case
Centennial, Colorado CNN —  

The capital murder trial of James Holmes reached a turning point when the prosecution rested its case this week, calling as its last witness a victim who survived the movie theater massacre but lost her pregnancy and her small daughter.

What James Holmes told his girlfriend about killing

  • A Colorado court released the chat message exchange between James Holmes and his then girlfriend Gargi Datta months before he allegedly opened fire in a crowded movie theater on July 20, 2012.
  • Here's a portion of what they wrote each other on March 25, 2012, without corrected grammar:
  • Girlfriend: "...do what you feel like doing, its a sunday afternoon."
  • Holmes: "Well what I feel like doing is evil so can't do that"
  • Girlfriend, later: "what is so evil that you want to do?"
  • Holmes: "Kill people of course. That is why I live in the future."
  • Girlfriend: "killing people is too much effort, you'll end up locked up. most people are not worth what might happen to you coz of the act."
  • Holmes: "That's why you kill many people."

Her powerful testimony capped two months of work for the jury thus far.

It was also a week where the jurors themselves were in the news – again. Another was dismissed.

Next week jurors will begin hearing the defense’s case. Holmes, 27, a one-time promising doctoral student in neuroscience, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 165 counts alleging he killed 12 people and injured 70 more at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.

Here are five things from the week’s proceedings on one of the worst mass killings in U.S. history.

Wrenching testimony

The prosecution rested Friday with heartbreaking testimony from survivor Ashley Moser.

Moser, then 25, was pregnant and was shot 3 times.

She lost her pregnancy and is now paralyzed.

She also lost her 6-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the youngest of the slain victims.

The mother stood up to try to leave the theater and got shot, falling on top of Veronica.

Friend Kaylan Bailey, then 13 and a frequent babysitter to Veronica, tried to give Veronica CPR, but couldn’t get to Veronica’s chest because the mom was lying atop her daughter, and the mom couldn’t be moved.

Moser sobbed under questioning by District Attorney George Brauchler.

“As soon as I stood up, I just remember getting hit in the chest, and I remember falling and landing on top of her,” Moser testified.

Do you know what hit you in the chest, the prosecutor asked.

“No, I thought it was a firework at the time,” Moser said.

When you fell on top of her, did you feel her moving, the prosecutor asked.

“No.”

Did you feel her breathing?

“No.”

Could you get off of her?

“No,” Moser said. “I tried, but I couldn’t move.”

Moser remembered people crying and screaming, and she was very scared.

Her next memory was of being carried out of the cinema.

She is still recovering from the catastrophic injuries.

“I got shot three times, one in my thigh, twice in my back,” Moser said. “One went all the way through my chest, and the other one ricocheted off my shoulder blade and into my spinal cord.”

Moser has permanent nerve pain in her legs. She can’t walk but has regained some feeling in her upper body. She has no control over bodily functions and relies on an oxygen tank to breath at night due to the removal of the upper left lobe of her lung, she testified.

The prosecutor then asked her about learning of her daughter’s death.

“It was Thursday night or Friday morning when this happened. Were you told on Sunday finally something about your daughter?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes, I was,” Moser said.

What were you told?

Moser paused and sobbed before the jury: “I was told that she didn’t make it, that she had passed away,” she said.

Through tears, Ashley then identified her daughter in a picture taken from her kindergarten graduation.

Prosecution rests

Immediately following Moser’s testimony, District Attorney Brauchler declared to the court: “Your honor, the people of the state of Colorado rest.”

The culmination of proceedings Friday marked day 35 and week eight of the trial.

In all, the prosecution called more than 200 witnesses. They included a wide variety of law officers, crime scene investigators, first responders, and University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus professors and students who knew Holmes in the neuroscience program.

Four psychiatrists testified about their professional opinions about Holmes’ mental health and sanity: two court appointed doctors who did psychiatric evaluations and two others who treated Holmes in the months before the shooting.

Holmes’ ex-girlfriend and friends also testified. Various records custodians from stores told the jury about where Holmes purchased weapons and protective gear and ammunition.

Woven throughout all these witnesses was emotional testimony from survivors. Their accounts were devastating and hauntingly consistent in terms of what happened that night and the lasting physical and emotional injuries.

The prosecution never let too much time go by before calling a survivor to testify – seeming to want to keep the emotion in play for the jurors as the weeks wore on.

The defense starts presenting its case on Thursday.

More juror issues

A total of five jurors have been dismissed in the past two weeks.

That contrasts to the first six weeks of the trial, when there were no juror dismissals.

That leaves 12 jurors and seven alternates for what could be two more months of trial. The gender breakdown is 14 women and five men.

Of the 19, the judge and the attorneys are the only ones who know which are actual jurors and which are alternates.

Here’s a quick summary of how the juror dismissals:

* June 9: The judge excused three jurors after a fourth juror reported overhearing one of them talking about the case during a court break. The fourth juror revealed two such incidents.

* Monday, June 15: A woman juror become the fourth dismissal after she changed her story to the judge about how her brother-in-law became involved in a mishap. One day, she told the judge her relative was in an accident. Another day, she told the judge he was involved in a shooting. Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour was concerned that the juror may have known about the nature of her relative’s incident on June 10 but withheld information from the court to remain a juror. The judge also expressed concern for the juror’s emotional well-being.

In a twist, this removed juror returned to the courtroom as an observer on Thursday. The judge warned the jurors that they are not allowed to speak with the former juror. And the judge also warned the former juror that she is not allowed to speak to the jurors or the media.

* Wednesday, June 17: Another woman juror was dismissed for not being forthcoming to the judge about recognizing a witness, Maria Carbonell, who testified on May 5. Carbonell’s son attends the school where the juror works. “I don’t believe you were completely forthcoming and candid with me when Ms. Carbonell testified,” the judge told the juror being ousted. “I think Ms. Carbonell recognized you and she told us about it. And then it’s when she told us about it that you and I ended up having a conversation on May 6, so I’m going to go ahead and release you.”

On the other hand, a male juror asked to speak to the judge this week because he recognized one of the witness as someone he plays fantasy football with and has hung out with now and then. The juror assured the judge that knowing the witness would not interfere with his ability to be fair and impartial, so the judge thanked the juror and continued with the trial with that juror still on the job.

A video of Holmes buying weapons

For the first time, jurors saw a tape of James Holmes purchasing two of the weapons used in the movie theater massacre. The two videos came from store surveillance cameras, captured about a month apart and just weeks before the shooting in the post-midnight minutes of July 20, 2012.

The first video shows Holmes walking into Gander Mountain in Thornton, Colorado, on June 7, 2012. With short brown hair and in dark clothing, he strolled up to the firearms counter and left 30 minutes later with an MMP 15 sport rifle, three bushmaster magazines, a shotgun sling, and some .223 ammunition that cost $968.38, according to the receipt from that day.

Lee McGinley, the sales associate who helped Holmes that day, explained all firearms purchases have to be approved by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, which can take just a few minutes or several hours.

Holmes passed a background check, McGinley told the court.

The second video, from at Bass Pro Shops in Denver, provided a grainy, shorter account of Holmes on July 6, 2012: Sales associate Brian Pennington testified he was behind the counter attending a customer in front of him. It was Holmes, wearing a tan shirt, a tan hat and light colored pants.

The video does not show the customers’ face, nor Holmes’ hair, which he had reportedly already dyed orange by then. That orange-red hair later became a signature of Holmes’ mug shot, making him resemble the cartoon villain Joker in the Batman serials.

Pennington didn’t remember Holmes specifically, but he did remember a problem with the sales transaction.

“At the time of the purchase, the first credit card was declined,” Pennington told the court.

Prosecutors used that piece of information to connect the video with a receipt from the time of purchase showing Holmes’ MasterCard had been declined, twice. He eventually used a Visa to pay the $1,149.24 bill and left with several items, including a Glock handgun, ammunition, and cleaning supplies.

Heartbreak and horror

Sobs cut through the silence in the courtroom as shooting survivor Jamison Toews testified about the moment he realized 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan had no pulse.

Toews was in the theater with his pregnant girlfriend, Ashley Moser, also Veronica’s mother.

The trio was joined by two teenage girls who babysat Veronica earlier in the day. One of those babysitters was Toews’ cousin, Kaylan Bailey.

Toews described being hit in the face with buckshot even before he realized what was happening.

“My head was gushing blood,” he recalled.

He scanned the theater and saw people rushing for the exit and running down the stairs. One person dragged his leg “as if he were wounded,” Toews said.

“And I saw the shooter shooting toward those people,” Toews said.

Moments later, he realized Veronica was on the ground with her mother atop her. The mother couldn’t move.

Toews became emotional as he described when police arrived and he yelled “that I have a pregnant woman that’s down, a 6-year-old that’s down.”

“They immediately came down to help us,” Toews recounted. “They checked (emotional pause) they checked their pulses (pause), and Ashley had a pulse and Veronica did not.”

Through tears, Toews testified how a first responder carried Veronica down the stairs, put her on the floor and started CPR.

But Toews was forced to leave the theater without the small girl to help get her mother to the hospital.

Later, he learned Veronica did not survive.

Neither did the couple’s unborn baby.

CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt and Ana Cabrera reported from Colorado. Michael Martinez wrote and reported from Los Angeles.