CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A young prospective Aurora theater shooting juror told the court during individual questioning on Thursday that she felt the death penalty was “immoral” and she would “never” impose it except on an individual like Hitler.
Though it flew in the face of a stern objection from Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who may ultimately still have an avenue to excuse this juror, District Court Judge Carlos Samour ruled on Thursday that the court would retain this young white woman in her early 20s for the next phase of jury selection.
It seemed part of the reason for the juror’s retention was a shrewd legal maneuver from Tamara Brady, one of the lead defense attorneys for James Holmes, as she specifically dug into the juror’s remarks regarding Hitler.
“It would have been one thing if she said she wouldn’t impose the death penalty even for Hitler,” Brady said. “She said that the death penalty could be an appropriate penalty for Hitler, which indicates to me that she would consider it in extreme cases.”
Brady’s argument didn’t resonate with Brauchler.
“Short of us convincing this juror that James Holmes is Adolf Hitler, there is no way she’s going to impose a death penalty in this case,” Brauchler said. “She (this juror) is saying she would consider imposing the death penalty in this case the same way I might say I would consider eating this styrofoam cup. I would consider eating it if you made me, but ultimately I’m not going to do it.”
After hearing Brauchler’s retort, Brady shot right back.
After hearing months of graphic testimony about the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which left 12 dead and another 70 injured, Brady supposed “there will be plenty of jurors who would eat a cup before they would pick life in prison” as a possible sentence for Holmes.
The anecdote was part of Brady’s overarching argument that juries must be comprised of individuals with varying viewpoints in order for a defendant to get a fair trial. It was an argument that drew no dissent from Samour.
In a capital case that proceeds to sentencing, the law requires that jurors be capable of sentencing a defendant to death and also capable of sentencing a defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The law doesn’t prohibit individuals who hold strong opinions about the death penalty from serving as a juror in a capital case, so long as they expressly state they are able to follow the law.
That was something the juror in question did when pressed multiple times by Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour, who summoned the woman back to the court for additional questioning even after both counsels and he himself had spent the previous half hour questioning her.
Specifically, Samour was concerned by the juror’s lack of consistency during the initial questioning. In one breath, she had told him she could follow the law despite her views on the death penalty, and said in extreme cases she could impose it. But in another breath, she called the death penalty “immoral and hypocritical” and told Brauchler during his questioning that she would “never” impose it on another human being.
The juror responded with a simple “yes” or “no” to most of the questions she was posed, often with a level of indigence that led Samour to later describe her as “lacking insight.”
But when pressed multiple times, the juror continued to tell the Samour that she would follow the law as he presented it to her during both the trial and sentencing phases of this case, giving the judge no legal standing to dismiss her from the jury pool.
It seemed quite evident that Brauchler believed this juror could be a strong, lone voice of dissent in a jury deliberation room, voting against the death penalty while 11 others voted for it and thereby ensuring a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Holmes.
Because of that, it seems very unlikely that this juror will be one of the 12 jurors or 12 alternates to eventually end up on this trial, as both the prosecution and the defense are allowed a certain number of preemptive strikes from the jury pool in the group questioning phase of jury selection.
However, each counsel only owns 22 preemptive strikes, so each one will be precious.
Including the young woman in question, the court retained 16 jurors over the course of three days of individual questioning. The court had hoped to retain 1.6 jurors a day, so they are well ahead of schedule.
The group questioning phase, which is the third and final phase of jury selection phase, is currently scheduled to begin in May.