I was baffled when the man who murdered twelve innocent people and wounded another seventy while they were viewing a movie in Colorado was not sentenced to death. I must say I commend the Denver Post and Jordan Steffen for publishing an article that attempts to explain the reasoning by at least one juror about the eventual life sentence. My reaction to the verdict had been that someone, or several, must have lied during jury selection that they could find for the death sentence when they secretly were not willing to do that. The Denver Post article provides some insight into the eventual outcome. My opinion is that the shooter clearly should have been sentenced to death, but reading the article made me more sympathetic to those who did not agree.
The article clearly describes the emotional impact of the trial on the jurors, or at least the impact on one who decided she could not vote for the death penalty. “She still cries when she thinks of the 12 people she never met. At night she imagines the horrors she only heard about…The gunman did not deserve a life sentence, but he also didn’t deserve to die.” I was confused when I read that last sentence, but eventually came to understand that the juror believed a life sentence was not enough punishment, but that the death sentence was too much punishment. I admit I don’t know what would be a “middle ground punishment,” but the juror needed whatever that might have been. The juror decided to speak to the press because reports indicated that a single juror spared the shooter’s life when there were three who could not agree with the death sentence.
The juror spoke with the reporter in a nearly empty diner under the agreement that her name and juror number would be protected. The description of the interview reflects the fear the juror feels. “She politely asked to move to a table in the corner of the room, out of earshot of others.” “It was the first of two relocations she would make in the restaurant.” She also quit talking if there was someone near enough to hear. She describes how the question was posed to the jurors whether anyone was adamantly in favor of a life sentence. “A woman raised her hand. Had the juror hesitated five seconds, the woman said she would have raised her hand first.” “A final poll tallied the votes. Nine for death. Three for life.”
The reasoning is answered late in the article. The juror says she was convinced the actions of the shooter proved that he knew right from wrong and was therefore clearly guilty of the crime. However, “…his severe mental illness also ruled out death, she said.” “It’s the fact that mental illness is there…How deep into the delusion the individual was, is impossible to tell.”
The juror said, she wanted “…to be the kind of juror I would want if it was me.” She also describes how she was often”…overwhelmed by the pain survivors live with every day…She distanced herself from friends and family.” She also said she couldn’t look at the victims’ families as the judge announced the decision. “You can’t say sorry enough to them” she said through tears welling up in her eyes.