(AURORA, Colo.) — Bob Holmes took the stand Tuesday in a desperate attempt to save the life of his son, who was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre.
James Holmes is potentially facing the death penalty after being convicted of 165 counts on July 16.
“Do you still love your son?” asked public defender Tamara Brady. “Yes. He was an excellent kid. He’s my son,” Bob Holmes said quietly.
Bob Holmes testified that the trial has been very difficult for him. He and his wife, Arlene, have sat directly behind their son in support of him enduring weeks of gut-wrenching testimony from the victims of families he killed and wounded.
Bob Holmes told the court that he wasn’t aware that his son was mentally ill and also did not know that he was having homicidal thoughts.
At the urging of defense attorneys, the killer’s father described a bucolic California childhood as pictures and videos of the gunman were shown to the jury on three flat screens in the courtroom. There were pictures and home movies of Christmas gatherings, neighborhood Halloween parties, camping out and, at 5 years old, getting a haircut by his grandmother.
All week, the jury has heard from neighbor moms, church leaders, college roommates and childhood friends. They’ve listened to stories of better days when the defendant got good grades on school science projects, volunteered to pull weeds at the church and brought toys to orphans.
But the older Holmes described life starting to turn south for his son after a move from the strawberry fields of Castroville, California to San Diego when the defendant was entering middle school.
“Jimmy,” as the family calls him, got good grades, but was struggling to fit in.
After graduating from high school, he started a job in a pill-coating factory.
“I suspected he was unhappy,” explained his dad. Life started looking up when the defendant got into the Neuropsychiatry program at the University of Colorado. In the fall of 2011 he had his first girlfriend.
Holmes’ father testified that at Christmas break that year, James was very sick with mononucleosis and he was concerned. By that spring, his son wasn’t returning phone calls.”We knew he had broken up with his girlfriend. We knew some things weren’t going very well.”
In truth, the convicted shooter had already begun buying guns and plotting out the July 20th attack; but he didn’t reveal his plans to anyone.
Though they usually communicated by email, they set up a phone call for July 4th and had a long conversation, which for the normally-introverted James they knew, was very unusual. “He sure didn’t sound depressed. He was pretty chatty,” testified the father.
When Bob and Arlene Holmes got the call that a gunman had opened fire into the premiere of a Batman movie in the early morning of July 20 three years ago, they thought their son had been shot. To their horror, they found out from the media that it was their son who had done the shooting.
The family sent nearly 50 letters to the jail and visited three times before the trial procedures started. “Jim doesn’t allow visitors, so we hadn’t been able to see him. The first time was when he had his red hair.”
Wednesday, Arlene Holmes will have her turn on the stand and tears are expected to be flowing in the Arapahoe County courtroom. Thursday morning both sides will have closing arguments and then the jury will deliberate whether the Holmes family’s plea for them to see their son as a human being worked to save him from moving to the next phase, the decision of whether or not to put him to death.
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