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Jury Confirms Aurora Theater Shooter Is Eligible For Death Penalty

A Colorado jury cleared the way for the second phase of the sentencing process for James Holmes, who was found guilty of killing 12 people and injuring 70 more in a shooting rampage at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. One week after convicting Holmes, the jury confirmed in a unanimous finding Thursday that he's eligible for the death penalty.

The jury said that when Holmes opened fire in a crowded theater in 2012, he acted in "extreme indifference to the value of human life generally."

Found guilty of first-degree murder, Holmes faces possible punishments that include a lifetime prison sentence or execution. Thursday's finding completes the first section of the penalty phase, focusing on aggravating factors. The next phase will consist of the defense team presenting mitigating factors, reports the Denver Post.

In Colorado, sentencing phases for death penalty cases take an average of three weeks, according to Colorado Public Radio, which cites research by Denver University.

As Krishnadev Calamur reported for the Two-Way, "Two psychiatrists who testified for the defense said Holmes was insane, but court-appointed doctors testified Holmes knew the difference between right and wrong."

The start of the trial's sentencing phase was contentious, with the court taking hours to consider multiple objections Thursday.

CPR reports that Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman discussed "possible aggravating factors with a long slide show that included photos of the wounded and the bloody crime scene. However the presentation was delayed by several hours by defense objections. Holmes' lawyers complained they'd only been given a copy of the slides at 5 pm the night before and many were inflammatory and intended to bias the jury against their client."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.