‘Eye for an eye’ concept takes center stage in theater shooting jury selection

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A view of the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes is to begin on Jan. 20, 2015, at the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo., Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015.

A view of the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes came to a close on April 14, at the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. (Photo: Brennan Linsley, pool)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Views on the death penalty took center stage in the Arapahoe County District Court Tuesday, a day that ultimately saw just two jurors retained for the next phase of jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting trial.

One retained juror was a middle-aged man in a wheelchair who said even though it would be difficult for him to impose a death sentence, he leaned towards that sentence and believed he would deliver it if it was the right choice.

“The punishment should fit the crime,” he said, citing his belief in “an eye for an eye.”

If James Holmes, the admitted gunman in the theater shooting that left 12 dead and 70 more injured, is found sane and guilty, he will face either a life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.

RELATED: Complete theater shooting trial coverage

The juror recognized that the life sentence could also serve as a punishment “worse than death.” When the defense asked if he could consider a sentence of life in prison for this case in particular, they were met with an objection from the prosecution.

“Objection: That, your honor, is a stake-out question,” said Rich Orman, one of the prosecutors, referring to the defense’s many previous “stake-out question” objections to the prosecution asking if prospective jurors could sentence “that man” to death.

Stake-out questions are questions that tend to commit prospective jurors to a specific future course of action in the trial. District Court Judge Carlos Samour has always overruled the defense’s objections to the prosecution’s questions regarding the death penalty, but sustained this objection and asked the defense to rephrase their question.

Though the defense argued that he had a “presumption of death” and would consider life in prison only as a second choice, the juror said in further questioning that he could consciously set aside his bias and became one of three jurors retained on Tuesday.

Samour stated afterwards that he would continue to keep jurors as long as they could consciously set aside their biases and “meaningfully and in good faith apply the law to the facts and be fair and impartial jurors.”

This juror wasn’t the only one today to mention an “eye for an eye.” A woman in mid-20s who originally said she didn’t know where she stood on the death penalty eventually admitted that she wouldn’t be able to impose death on anyone.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I don’t know if I could pull the trigger,” she said.

She was released for hardship due to her upcoming wedding in July, during the anticipated middle of the trial.

Views on the death penalty came up in the morning session as well, with an 84-year-old woman who said she “would consider” it but would have “a great deal of trouble” imposing it, having opposed it for her whole life.

In contrast to earlier decisions to keep jurors who would consider the death penalty even if it opposed their beliefs, Samour ruled to dismiss her.

The two other jurors kept Tuesday were a woman in her late-20s who had volunteered as a victim advocate from 2008 to 2010 and an elderly man who was a drill sergeant during the Vietnam era, serving with a reserve unit in Denver, who called himself “an open-minded liberal.”

Three jurors were released Tuesday morning due to their reservations on the death penalty.

As of Tuesday, 34 jurors had been retained and will continue on to the group questioning phase of jury selection. Because the court is proceeding through this individual questioning phase three times faster than the court had hoped, Samour has noted that the trial date may potentially be moved up to April. He has also denied several of the defense’s requests to delay the trial further.