DENVER -- For the first time since their son killed 12 people inside an Aurora movie theater on July 20, 2012, the parents of James Holmes have spoken out.
Robert and Arlene Holmes write in a letter that their son "is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness" who should be spared from the death penalty.
They wrote "we have spent every moment for more than two years thinking about those who were injured, and the families and friends of the deceased who were killed."
"We wish that July 20, 2012, never happened," they added.
They also said there is no need for a trial and the best thing for their son is for him to "go to an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill for the remainder of his life. This result would prevent any future harm to him and others."
Holmes, 27, is accused of opening fire inside a movie theater on July 20, 2012, during a midnight showing of the Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises."
The parents also said that before the shooting, their son "never harmed anyone and he had no criminal history."
In a court filing last year, Holmes' attorneys said the former doctoral student in neuroscience was in "the throes of a psychotic episode when he committed acts that resulted in the tragic loss of life." Through his attorneys, Holmes has offered to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors, however, have so far refused a plea deal. Last year, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler rejected an agreement, saying that -- for Holmes -- "justice is death."
"We love our son, we have always loved him, and we do not want him to be executed," Holmes' parents wrote. "A lengthy trial requires everyone to relive those horrible moments in time, causing additional trauma."
More than 9,000 jury summonses were issued earlier this month and jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 20. Opening statements are expected in May or June.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the shooting.
Those killed were Jonathan Blunk, A.J. Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Larimer, Matt McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alex Teves and Rebecca Wingo.
The letter reads:
As the parents of James Holmes, we have spent every moment for more than two years thinking about those who were injured, and the families and friends of the deceased who were killed, in the theater shooting in Aurora. We are always praying for everyone in Aurora. We wish that July 20, 2012, never happened.
Our son pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges associated with these shootings. Defense attorneys for our son first stated in open court in May 2013 that James was diagnosed in Colorado with a serious mental illness. Prior to July 20, 2012, he never harmed anyone and he had no criminal history.
We understand that if our son is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could go to an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill for the remainder of his life. This result would prevent any future harm to him and others.
We realize treatment in an institution would be best for our son. We love our son, we have always loved him, and we do not want him to be executed. We also decry the need for a trial. A lengthy trial requires everyone to relive those horrible moments in time, causing additional trauma.
In the criminal justice system, the prosecution and defense can agree to a sentence of life in prison, without parole, in exchange for a guilty plea. If that happened, our son would be in prison the rest of his life, but no one would have to relive those horrible events at a trial the media has permission to televise.
We do not know how many victims of the theater shooting would like to see our son killed. But we are aware of people's sentiments. We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster. He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.
We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.
We are not alone in our sentiments. The Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an international organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness formed the "Prevention, Not Execution Project," aimed at ending the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.
Our family has not given interviews to the media because we do not want coverage of ourselves. We mourn the deaths and the serious injuries and emotional trauma of the others who were in the theater. The focus should be on the injured and their healing.
One of the survivors, Marcus Weaver, who was shot twice in the arm, released a statement later Friday in response to the Holmes' letter:
I sat next to Holmes family when the DA announced the death penalty awhile back in court. Some people were cheering, some people sobbing and some just in shock. I use to think that the death penalty was wrong based on hangings, lynchings back in the 19/20 century that were happening to innocent people due to race.
James Holmes has been forgiven by me personally but he will still have to answer to the people of Colorado for the horrific act that he carefully orchestrated over... the months before shooting plus he boobie trapped a whole block to due more harm. Consequences for actions. DNA has freed many death row inmates but in this case it is crystal clear who did it.
What should the penalty for a person that kills 12 people (one being my friend) and an unborn child plus shoot 59 others with an AR- 15 and a shotgun in a movie theater? Life or Death?
What are we saying as a society if there is anything less than the death penalty?
This trial is just not about a plea, at the core it is going to expose many things: Anti Death Penalty vs Pro Death Penalty, Mental Health advocates vs Non, Gun Control vs Anti Control, then make us seriously take a hard look at public safety and the current legal system/gun laws these issues all will be added to the circus.
Jury selection is begining in a month, 9000 summons to get to 24 people then trial starts in June.
I pray for all the parties involved, including Holmes parents, no one is going to be smiling and happy come stand time or during this trial but my hope is that it will began closure for the many victims families and survivors still hurting. This will be the 3rd Holidays without loves ones lost, it's painful for both sides I would imagine. Vengeance is the Lords and we will just have to ride this out on the national stage, unfortunately. Holmes like us all have choices and his hurt many. If Holmes wanted life he should have taken others. If Holmes wants to avoid the trial then just plead guilty, stop the upcoming trial, save taxpayers, victims, survivors more harm by having to re-live it again in a lengthy trial and just face the truth. The Holmes letter albeit is a plea to live but think about the victims did they have a chance for life?