The death penalty gives way to moral and ethical issues, religious views, legal considerations, and social issues. As proponents say, “It is an important tool for preserving law and order,” opponents of the death penalty say, “It has no preventative effect on crime.”
So why should we spare the life of James Holmes, a 27-year-old male who had a serious mental illness called Schizophrenia. Holmes was being treated for his illness but had gone off his medication and had expressed homicidal ideation.
On July 20, 2012 at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, Holmes murdered 12 people, wounding 70 others in an Aurora, Colorado multiplex. His tearful mother on the witness stand spoke of the pain and guilt that has consumed her since the event took place. She wrote in her prayer journal nine months after her son’s rampage, “More death does not restore life.”
“I still love my son,” said Arlene Holmes, as she began choking up. “I do.” With heart-centered words she asked the court to spare her son’s life. During his court hearing the jury was shown courtroom video of his birth announcement, seven pounds, five ounces, 20 inches; of his innocence as he laughed as a little boy cutting out gingerbread Christmas trees with his grandmother; and struggling to pick out “Jingle Bells” on the piano.
If the jurors wondered if there was someone to love every broken part of Holmes, then his mother would define that someone. Her courtroom moment showed how a mother pleads to a jury for her son to be granted mercy. She wanted her words and the video to leave footprints in the minds of jurors that held her sons fate in their hands.
Mrs. Holmes was granted permission to be human as she dealt with a hurricane of misunderstood emotions from the courtroom while pleading for her son’s life. She also understood that a nation was affected by the harm that her son had done to others. Speaking of her son she let the jury know “He never harmed anyone ever until this happened.”
It’s hard to understand and have sympathy for someone who committed a host of murders where the victims never asked to die. At the same time, neither did the mental illness of the shooter ever ask his permission to take up residence in his mind. We understand the disease of mental illness, but do we treat the disease like a crime and send all with mental illnesses who commit crimes to the death penalty for the lives they have taken? Or do we sentence them to a life of incarcerated servitude?
On August 7, 2015 a decision was made. Nine jurors were for the death penalty, one was firmly against the death penalty and two wavered. This resulted in a unanimous sentencing verdict of life in prison without parole.
Why do we feel the need to kill individuals who have killed individuals? This is a question that can be asked by those who have not been affected by crimes, or those affected who have stood in court rooms reading their victim-impact statements and have not asked for the death penalty but life for the murders of their loved ones.
And then there are those who want justice and feel the death penalty is the right course of action to take on behalf of their loved ones, especially a father who wraps his arms around his sons casket as he says goodbye and begins to learn what the meaning of emptiness feels like.
Ellis is a freelance writer that lives in Minneapolis.