Prosecution pushes death penalty for theater shooting suspect

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James Holmes

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (CNN) — Prosecutors said Monday they will seek the death penalty for Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes despite his offer last week to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding a death sentence.

“It is my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said.

Before reaching the decision, the district attorney said, he spoke directly with dozens of victims’ family members.

Bryan Beard, whose close friend was killed in the massacre, said one thought ran through his mind when he heard the district attorney announce his decision in court: “Thank goodness. I am so happy this is happening.”

“The only way death will receive justice when somebody murders somebody else is death,” Beard told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH-TV during a break in Monday’s court proceedings. “I guess you fight fire with fire.”

Beard told reporters that if Holmes is executed, he wants to attend.

“I’ve already said, give me a front-row ticket,” he said.

New trial date

But the legal wrangling in the case is just revving up, and Holmes’ trial won’t begin until next year.

The trial was originally scheduled for August, but a judge Monday pushed back the start date to February 3, and said it could be delayed further. Once it starts, the trial is expected to last four months.

Public defender Tamara Brady argued that it is important to provide enough time to present arguments in the case.

“Your honor, this case is the most important matter this courtroom and this courthouse will ever hear,” she said. “They’re trying to execute our client.”

Last week defense attorneys filed documents saying Holmes had offered to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life behind bars in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Prosecutors took the defense to task for publicly offering it, saying they hadn’t been given enough information to even consider such a deal.

“Not only improper, but grossly improper,” prosecutors said in a Thursday court filing. “For the intended purpose of generating predictable publicity.”

The case against Holmes

Holmes faces 166 counts of murder and attempted murder for last year’s shooting at an Aurora movie theater that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded.

Attorneys on both sides are under a gag order, leaving case watchers to divine tactics from court documents.

Last month, a judge entered a standard plea of not guilty for Holmes, who is accused in the July 20 shooting.

In the documents filed last Wednesday, his attorneys said they were still exploring a mental health defense, “and counsel will vigorously present and argue any and all appropriate defenses at a trial or sentencing proceeding, as necessary.”

Federal agents have said the former University of Colorado doctoral student planned the attack for months.

Authorities say Holmes booby-trapped his apartment with explosives, then traveled to the movie theater armed with the weapons, tear gas and body armor planning to kill audience members during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Witnesses who spoke to CNN said the gunman roamed the theater, shooting randomly as people tried to scramble away or cowered between seats.

CNN’s Jim Spellman, Catherine E. Shoichet, Ed Payne and Dana Ford contributed to this report.