Guilty of murder or not guilty by reason of insanity is the arduous task before the jury in the James Holmes trial. The jury has a very difficult job, deciding another human beings fate, and I don’t envy the burden they bear.
Trials such as this are very interesting from an academic perspective. Who does what Holmes did and is not insane? That’s not the measure the jury uses, it is whether he knew right from wrong at the time of the shootings. Of the 165 charges and all of the evidence and testimony on his mental status, this case boils down to one decision, was he legally insane?
Holmes has not denied the shooting but denied he knew what he was doing was wrong. What do you think the jurors are discussing in their deliberations? Are they focusing on the psychiatrists who testified, or are they looking at the meticulous way he went about planning for the shooting, including what I find to be very telling, the actions he took to conceal what he was doing.
As reported by USA Today, “He went to a shooting range far from town five times and practiced on life-sized silhouettes of people” and “he bought air fresheners to disguise the smell of gasoline from the improvised explosive devices he was making.” [i] These two pieces of evidence I think speak volumes to his mental state. I am neither a psychiatrist nor offering any opinion on his sanity, but I feel these facts have the ability to give the jurors a contemporaneous view of his actions and to me, they say he was sane.
If a person such as Holmes is planning something so heinous and doesn’t think it to be wrong, then why try to hide it? Why drive far from town to practice shooting on human silhouettes? Why try to mask the odor of gas with an air freshener? To me this proves he knew what he was planning was wrong, and did not want to be discovered.
Often times when we conduct mock trials we see what was deemed insignificant by the trial team to be a pivotal issue for the surrogate jurors. What jurors elect to classify as important or significant varies greatly and hence the need for deliberations. Will the jury consider the psychiatric testimony important? Will it be how he planned and went about his rampage important? Perhaps their emotions or some other facts in the case will prevail.
I understand the jurors are instructed not to allow emotions to influence their decision, I say emotions will play a part in their verdict. Often in our mock trials we see emotion effect surrogate jurors’ decisions. We also see other jurors expose them and remind them of the jury instruction. We also see that people are good about getting their way when they are emotionally motivated.
To me, this case is very similar to the John Couey trial here in Florida. You may recall that he too was attempting to convince the jury he was mentally ill by occupying himself at trial with a kid’s coloring book. It appears to me that Holmes is also attempting this by putting a psychotic look on his face for the jury and the press. I think there will be a similar verdict in the Holmes trial.
I am looking forward to the verdict, and I am hopeful that the jurors will speak to the media about their deliberations and verdict.
[i] Nicholas Penzenstadler and Michael Winter, USA TODAY 7:20 a.m. EDT July 15, 2015