AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – July 20 marked 10 years since the Aurora theater shooting, the night a gunman opened fire at a midnight movie killing 12 people and wounding 70 more.
FOX31 is remembering the victims, the heroes and those involved in seeking justice on this 10-year milestone. George Brauchler, the former 18th Judicial District Attorney who tried the case, reflected on the trial.
“I spent time prosecuting the Columbine massacre and, at the time, I thought that would be the biggest, worst thing I’d ever handle,” Brauchler said. “Then I realized I was wrong. This was going to be it.”
Death penalty on the table in theater shooting trial
Brauchler woke up in the middle of the night on July 20, 2012. He couldn’t go back to sleep after looking at his phone and seeing the alerts about a mass shooting in the district where he was running for district attorney.
“I turned on the TV and I spent the next three hours sitting on the edge of the couch in silence, watching the images unfold of this mass shooting that took place,” Brauchler said. “Once I realized that the shooter had been taken alive behind theater No. 9, I knew right then and there that this case was only going to be able to be resolved in a courtroom. There was nothing else.”
After winning the election for district attorney, the case consumed him. Brauchler spoke about the first sit-downs and conversations he had with victims.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I felt like I was standing on the edge of a bottomless abyss of darkness, and I could hear them speaking to me from down there, but there was no way to get to them. Like it was just such a deep, deep hole that they were in and that made it tough, and it made it poignant. But then, you get to the conversation about whether or not to seek death [for the shooter].”
Brauchler said he and another prosecutor started making calls to about 112 victims and loved ones, laying out options for justice.
“I had a legal pad. I drew a line down the middle and put like, pro and con, like who was in favor of the death penalty, who was opposed,” Brauchler said. “That was just so naive because, yes, there were those answers where people would say, ‘I want him to die, and I want to put the needle in his arm.’ I get it. I get it. There were some who said, ‘I don’t want to see the death penalty because I want closure and I want it now,’ some who would say, ‘Look, I’ve been opposed to the death penalty as a matter of faith my whole life and that doesn’t change just because it’s my boy.’ Those were the easy ones.”
In the end, Brauchler went for the death penalty.
“Would I do it again, given everything I know?” Brauchler said. “Yeah, I would do it again because I think if we tried this case, nine times out of 10, it turns out with the different outcome. But that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t justice.”
As sentence is read, tears on both sides
Three years after the tragedy, a jury convicted the shooter, finding him guilty of the murders of each of the 12 victims killed. He was also found guilty of attempted murder, all 140 counts against him for the 70 people wounded in the shooting.
However, in deliberations for sentencing, one juror made it clear she would not vote for a death sentence. Without a unanimous decision, the sentence became life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The murderer and his family and the defense attorneys start sobbing because they realize that they’ve saved his life,” Brauchler said. “At that exact moment, I hear this God-awful groan behind me, and it’s the victims. They’re crying, too. I just remember sitting there thinking that I failed these people. I failed them. It was just devastating.”
FOX31 asked if he still feels the same way a decade later.
“I feel like it was a failure on my part. I missed something,” Brauchler said. “We missed something in jury selection with that juror. It’s not because she did anything wrong. I don’t believe that at all. We just didn’t get to where we needed to.”
Amid horror, ‘the best of humanity’
Reflecting on the case, he also had another major realization.
“You are confronted with someone who is probably as evil an individual as I’ve encountered,” he said. “My God, he put four rounds from a semiautomatic rifle into a 6-year-old girl’s body. This guy is a monster, but you also then get confronted with the best of humanity.”
Brauchler saw the power of so many heroes from July 20, 2012: the victims who died taking bullets to protect their loved ones, the first responders who saved dozens of lives.
“I have hope that we will find a way to be a better people to each other and to try to minimize how this happens,” he said. “But I also have hope, too, because of the heroes involved.”