Defense attorneys use ‘Colorado method’ to save theater shooter from death penalty

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Shocking a courtroom full of victims, an Arapahoe County jury spared the life of the Aurora theater shooter.

The jury could not reach a unanimous decision to issue the death penalty Friday, so James Holmes will get life in prison without the possibility of parole. It's a sentence that doesn't surprise legal experts.

“The Colorado state public defenders are the best death penalty defense lawyers in the United States of America,” death penalty criminal defense attorney David Lane said.

Only three people sit on Colorado’s death row. Lane said that fact, in large part, can be attributed to the practice of what is called the Colorado method of jury selection.

“It is responsible in part for the precipitous drop in death verdicts happening all over the country,” he said.

The method involves rating potential jurors on a scale of one to seven.

“Where one would be Gandhi and seven would be Hitler and all points in between,” Lane said. “The ones and the sevens are presumptively not going to serve on juries because in order to serve on a jury you have to both be able to consider meaningfully the death penalty — a one couldn’t ever impose a death penalty — and you have to be able to meaningfully consider mitigation offered by a defendant. A seven could never do that."

Jurors expressed grave doubts on imposing the death penalty on someone who is seriously mentally ill.

Lane said from jury selection to closing arguments, theater shooter defense attorney Tamara Brady used textbook Colorado method.

“To get a death penalty both the crime and the criminal have to be among the most heinous, atrocious crimes and criminals that come before the courts. Here clearly the crime fit that description. But it would be difficult to describe James Holmes as the most personally morally culpable person warranting the maximum allowable punishment when he carries with him such unbelievably mental illness,” Lane said.