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'Justice is death' for alleged shooter in Batman rampage, prosecutor says

MSNBC's Thomas Roberts gets the latest from the trial of James Holmes from NBC's Leanne Gregg and attorney Gary Lozow. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Holmes.

Prosecutors said Monday that they will seek the death penalty for James Holmes, the man accused of gunning down 12 people and wounding 70 at a Batman movie last summer in Colorado.

George Brauchler, the district attorney for Arapahoe County, said he made the decision after speaking with more than 800 victims and family members.

“It’s my determination and my intention that in this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” he said at a hearing.

Brauchler had already rejected an offer from the defense to let Holmes plead guilty and serve a life sentence.

Judge William Sylvester of the Colorado circuit court entered a plea of not guilty for Holmes last month after his lawyers said they were not ready to plead. The judge left the door open for lawyers to mount an insanity defense.

Sylvester on Monday set Holmes’ trial for Feb. 3, 2014, and said it would last about four months. He handed the case to a new judge, Carlos Samour. The trial had originally been scheduled to begin in August.

“This is not an ordinary case. We ask the judge not to rush,” one of Holmes’ lawyers, Tamara Brady, said, answering prosecution claims that the defense has tried to delay the legal process. “This is the most important matter the court will ever hear.”

The two sides in the case fought in public last week. After the defense made its offer, Brauchler said in a filing that Holmes’ lawyers were only trying to generate sympathy for their client.

The only conclusion, the prosecutor wrote, “is that the defendant knows he is guilty, the defense attorneys know he is guilty and that both of them know that he was not criminally insane.”

Brauchler wrote an Op-Ed in The Denver Post over the weekend defending the death penalty. Colorado legislators have considered banning it. He did not name Holmes but wrote of capital punishment as an important tool of justice.

“Repealing the death penalty would result in acts similar to those in Newtown, Conn., or the acts of Tim McVeigh being punished no differently than a single murder of one gang member by another,” the prosecutor wrote. “Each murder after the first would be a freebie.”

Injection is the method for capital punishment in Colorado. The state has executed only one inmate since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. That execution was in 1997.

R.J. Sangosti / Pool

Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment March 12.

Holmes’ lawyers have said that jailers determined he was a danger to himself and needed a mental evaluation, and that he was held for several days in a psychiatric ward, sometimes in restraints.

He surrendered to police within minutes of the July 12 shooting rampage at a midnight screening of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver.

At his first court appearance, Holmes had stark, red-orange hair and wore a blank stare. He has since appeared more stable and natural-looking. He showed up in court last month with a bushy beard.

The hearing Monday was set to begin at 11 a.m. EDT. Legal observers have pointed out that the two sides could still reach a plea deal later, even as prosecutors seek to put Holmes to death.

NBC News producer John Boxley, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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