Colorado movie gunman James Holmes sentenced to 12 lifetimes in prison


Condemning the movie massacre gunman to 12 life sentences and the maximum 3,318 years in prison for his rampage in a midnight screening of a Batman film, a Colorado judge on Wednesday said evil and mental illness were not mutually exclusive.

“It is the court's intention that the defendant never set foot in free society again … If there was ever a case that warranted the maximum sentences, this is the case,” Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour said

“The defendant does not deserve any sympathy.”

Survivors and relatives of those killed clapped and cheered as Samour then ordered deputies to remove James Holmes from his courtroom, and the gunman was led away in shackles.

The 27-year-old was found guilty by a jury last month of murdering 12 people and wounding 70 in his rampage inside the packed screening a multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The jury did not reach a unanimous decision on whether Holmes should be executed. That meant the former neuroscience graduate student, who had pleaded insanity, got a dozen automatic life sentences with no possibility of parole.

Samour still had to sentence Holmes on attempted murder counts and an explosives charge.

Condemning the shooter to the longest term he could issue, the judge said Holmes decided to “quit” in life, and that he set out to kill “as many innocents as possible.”

Samour said whatever illness Holmes may have suffered, there was overwhelming evidence that a significant part of his conduct had been driven by “moral obliquity, mental depravity … anger, hatred, revenge, or similar evil conditions.”

He said “the $64 million question” that still lingered was whether the defendant was afflicted by a mental condition, disease or defect, and if so, to what extent.

“We tend to like simple answers, but maybe it's not so simple,” Samour said. “And maybe that's because we're not where we need to be in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.”

JUDGE PRAISES VICTIMS

After two days of often tearful and sometimes angry testimony from victims, District Attorney George Brauchler had called on Tuesday for Holmes to be given every day of the longest possible sentence.

The lead prosecutor also said he wished the court could order that the defendant spend the rest of his days in solitary confinement, surrounded by photos of the people he killed, but that it could not.

Samour said he had heard some people bemoan that the gunman would luxuriate in prison.

But he said he thought one of the victims summed it up best when he said being behind bars would be no picnic.

The judge said people could focus on the free food and medical care Holmes will receive. Or, he said, they could see the glass as half-full and consider he will be locked up for the rest of his days with serious, dangerous criminals.

“That doesn't sound a like a four-star hotel to me,” Samour said.

Defense lawyers say they have no plans to appeal, and the judge said that meant they had “truly completed” the trial in a surprisingly short period of just over three years.

“That's unheard of time for a death penalty case, especially one of this magnitude,” Samour said.

And the judge praised the victims, who he said had shown tremendous courage and grit, some of whom were disappointed that Holmes was not sentenced to death.

“You know your healing is not tied to the defendant's fate,” Samour said.

“Even despite all the pain and suffering you've been through, you're not quitting, and you're hanging in there, and you're fighting. You have my admiration.”

Colorado judge accepts insanity plea from accused theater gunman


Accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, who could face execution if convicted of killing 12 moviegoers last summer, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on Tuesday, and a judge accepted his plea.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He is accused of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more in a gun rampage inside a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” last July.

Holmes, seated with his lawyers, said little during the latest proceedings in Arapahoe County District Court, but he appeared attentive and answered “no” when the judge asked him whether he had any questions about the ramifications of his plea.

The judge, Carlos Samour Jr., had delayed ruling on whether to accept such an insanity plea until legal questions surrounding the matter were resolved.

Among those issues was a challenge to the state's insanity-defense law by public defenders. They argued that a provision of the statute that requires a defendant mounting an insanity defense to submit to an examination by court-appointed psychiatrists is unconstitutional.

Compelling a defendant to divulge information that could be used against him at trial and at sentencing violates his right against self-incrimination, they argued. But Samour upheld the law last week, setting the stage for Tuesday's hearing.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the former University of Colorado-Denver graduate student if he is convicted.

Public defender Daniel King said in court last month that defense psychiatrists had obtained a complete diagnosis on Holmes' mental illness.

Twice since his arrest, Holmes has been hospitalized, his lawyers said, once for apparent self-inflicted head injuries and again when he was held in restraints in a psychiatric ward.

At a preliminary hearing in January, before a judge ordered the defendant to stand trial, investigators testified that Holmes spent months amassing firearms and bomb making materials in preparation for committing mass murder.

At the same time he was assembling his arsenal, Holmes failed his oral examinations and was told by a university professor that perhaps he was not a good fit for his neuroscience doctoral program, prosecutors said.

Also expected to be decided at Tuesday's hearing is the issue surrounding a package Holmes sent to a university psychiatrist who treated him that was delivered to a university mail room two days after the killings.

A notebook included in the package sent to Dr. Lynne Fenton reportedly contained details of a planned massacre. Holmes' lawyers have argued that the package is protected by physician-patient privilege and should not be turned over to prosecutors.

Defense attorneys submitted numerous pre-trial pleadings that were made public on Tuesday, including a notice to the judge that they plan to seek a change of venue for the trial on grounds that pretrial publicity could prejudice the jury. They also asked the judge to sequester the jury.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool

Giffords: ‘Shame’ on senators who voted down gun checks


The U.S. senators who defeated a bill that would toughen background checks for gun purchasers “brought shame on themselves,” former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said.

“The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job,” Giffords wrote in an Op-Ed appearing Thursday in The New York Times Thursday, a day after the measure earned 56 votes — four short of the necessary 60 in the 100-member chamber.

Giffords, who was shot in the head in January 2011 in an assault that took the lives of six others, had joined President Obama and the families of 20 first-graders and six adults massacred in December in Newtown, Conn., in condemning the vote.

After the Newtown massacre, Giffords, who retired in 2012 to focus on her recovery, launched a gun control group with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

“I’m furious,” she wrote. “I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.”

Giffords, who owns a gun, was scathing in her denunciation of the senators who once were her colleagues.

“Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful,” she said. “On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.”

Giffords, a conservative Democrat, was the first Jewish woman elected to federal office from Arizona.

L.A. camp gets unwanted attention in wake of Colorado shooting


Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes’ reported ties to Camp Max Straus have led to unwanted attention for Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and its camp, its director said.

“I think the attention is unfortunate,” Randy Schwab, CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and Camp Max Straus, said during a July 23 phone interview.

Following last week’s shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., media reported that Holmes, 24, worked as a counselor at Glendale-based Camp Max Straus during summer 2008. The camp and its parent organization have found themselves trying to avoid negative attention while coming to terms with the knowledge that Holmes — who is suspected of killing 12 people and injuring 58 — was once responsible for a group of approximately 10 children.

On July 20, Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater during a midnight screening of the Batman finale, “The Dark Knight Rises,” and, armed with multiple weapons, began shooting. He was arrested immediately following the incident and is currently being held in a Colorado detention facility. Holmes made his first court appearance on July 23.

Holmes grew up in the upscale northwest San Diego neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos and attended a local Presbyterian church with his family, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Holmes’ connection to Camp Max Straus was discovered through a resume found on employment Web site Monster.com following the shooting.

Situated on 100-plus scenic acres in the Verdugo Mountains and at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet residential neighborhood, Max Straus serves a primarily non-Jewish population of low-income and disadvantaged youth ages 7-12. Mentoring organization Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles owns and operates the nonsectarian camp.

Director Schwab has resisted being interviewed, instead referring reporters to a written statement confirming Holmes was a cabin counselor at Camp Max Straus for eight weeks during the summer of 2008.

“Camp Max Straus is accredited and adheres to rigorous standards to ensure the safety and security of its campers and staff,” the statement says. “All employees of the camp are subjected to a thorough screening process.”

On July 23, NBC Channel 4 News shot footage for a live segment from outside of Max Straus. The news station’s van had been parked outside the camp for approximately five hours, said NBC general assignment reporter Cary Berglund, who was on the scene.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

Berglund arrived at the camp hoping to interview camp staff, but counselors declined interview requests and Schwab did not speak to reporters. Two security guards patrolled the entrance, forbidding reporters from walking onto the property, and handed out copies of Schwab’s written statement.

The camp is currently in session, and young children could be seen walking amid the cabins.

Speaking to The Journal, Berglund said that Max Straus doesn’t deserve negative attention, even though it’s “chilling that somebody like [Holmes] was actually a counselor at a kids camp.”

“Somebody like that could be anywhere at any time,” Berglund said. “I don’t think it reflects badly on the camp. It’s just kind of an eerie addition to what the story is.”

A man who worked with Holmes at Max Straus told CNN that he was a “nice guy” who worked well with children.

“He was a little isolated, but he was, you know, a nice guy,” Gabriel Menchaca said.

The attention that the camp has received is surprising and undesirable, according to a former camp staff member who had worked with Holmes.

“I’m looking at us all over TMZ,” the former camp staff member said on July 22, speaking to The Journal on condition of anonymity. “There’s my picture, it’s crazy.” 

“We had a great summer in 2008, and we don’t want this backlash to spoil it,” the former staffer added. “It’s unfortunate that they’re screaming about the camp all over the news.”

Rob Eshman: Who will protect us from the NRA?


The National Rifle Association (NRA) claims it exists to protect our rights. My question is this: Who will protect us from the NRA?

The gun lobby is not responsible for the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo., last week that has so far claimed 12 victims. 

But its consistent and effective efforts to thwart common-sense laws to reduce gun deaths have turned the NRA into a public health threat. To the mayhem of Aurora, it adds its own brand of madness.

I’m not saying the NRA doesn’t have a right to do what it does. I’m not saying gun laws are a panacea that will stop spree killings or gun deaths — more on that below. I’m saying that by standing up to the NRA and passing a handful of sensible gun laws, we can prevent thousands of gun-related deaths each year.

I say this as a former NRA member. I still enjoy shooting guns, and I probably know more about them than your average concealed-carry diehard. There are Red Staters who drive Leafs and Blue Staters who shoot skeet. We can have both guns and common sense in this country – right now we only have the former.  

“Aurora was a tragedy,” Adam Winkler, author of the book “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” told me by phone when I called him just four days after the shooting. “But since Aurora, 240 people have died from guns in this country. Two hundred and forty.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns claim 35 victims each day in this country — a statistic that does not include suicides (as Winkler’s number did). About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after Aurora, guns will have killed another 350 people.

The key to driving these numbers down, Winkler said, is to enact federal laws that address the most egregious flaws in gun legislation.

Winkler, like me, is not anti-gun. He’s a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, a Westside native (and yes, the son of legendary film producer Irwin Winkler) who has focused his considerable intellect on the Second Amendment, which has resulted in America’s patchwork of state laws regarding guns. Because of the inconsistencies across state lines, restrictions are bound to be ineffective, as guns are easy to conceal and transport.

I asked Winkler to name one or two federal laws that sensible people and courageous politicians could support.

He suggested new laws aimed at improving criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. New federal laws should also require these checks for all gun sales. Right now, they only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales—via private parties and gun shows, for example—take place with no background check.

That’s a good place to start, President Obama.

Even such a law, Winkler acknowledged, still might not prevent the next Aurora. Twisted men (it is almost always men) intent on killing will find a way to procure one of the 200 million guns in this country, as well as the millions of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

People who really want to wreak havoc will find a way. Norway has strict gun laws, yet still one of the worst mass shootings in history took place there a year ago this week. And in America, the problem of violence goes far beyond guns. Our homicide rate is four times that of France and the United Kingdom — the highest of any advanced democracy. Switzerland and Israel both have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

The causes of such carnage may be spiritual, sociological, economic, historical or all of the above. 

But smart, universal background checks could save two or three or five lives each week.

“You could say you’re just addressing the margins,” Winkler said, “but those margins are human lives.”

To save those lives, people have to funnel their outrage over Aurora into two things: contributions and votes.

“Gun control supporters don’t do that,” Winkler pointed out. “Gun control opponents do that.”

He’s right. The NRA, whose founding vision has been hijacked by people with a maximalist agenda, is flourishing. Meanwhile, gun control advocacy organizations flounder. Last May, the Los Angeles-based Women Against Gun Violence held a fundraiser honoring New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and the event brought in much less money than expected. Foundation grants have also slacked off, the group’s executive director, Margot Bennett, told me. The economy may be partly to blame, but so are politicians from across the spectrum who lack the courage to confront the NRA, and people like you and me who have given up the fight.

The annual budget of Women Against Gun Violence is $300,000. The NRA’s annual budget? $220 million.

“Mayor Bloomberg said we need more leadership on this issue,” Winkler told me. “But he’s got it exactly backwards. We don’t need more leadership, we need more followership.”

This is a fight between those willing to sacrifice American lives for a maximalist political agenda, and those who want to find the right balance between our constitutional rights and the sanctity of human life. 

To all those in favor of balance: It’s time to step up.

Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims


As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre in a suburban Denver movie theater, local synagogues conducted special prayers and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado launched a response fund for the victims and their families.

Early Friday morning, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie, “Dark Knight Rises,” and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court Monday for arraignment on murder charges. He reportedly worked one year at a summer camp operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. He is not Jewish.

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched by Wednesday. The federation also is planning a blood drive at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for blood donations in Denver, he said.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

“As Jews, especially with our relationship with Israel, we understand terrorism very directly, and this is a way for us to show others that we understand the tragic nature of this event and want to do whatever we can to help provide some level of comfort,” Seserman told JTA.

Seserman said that after the state’s recent wildfires, the federation received about 500 donations worth about $75,000, He said 25 percent of the money came from outside the state.

“We now know that we will have the same kind of support from the Jewish world,” Seserman said. “We as a Jewish community mobilize well in times of crisis whether it is a war in Israel, Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a wildfire in Colorado. We have this demonstrated ability to mobilize in times of crisis, and here is another one we face and will overcome.”

Rabbi Bruce Dollin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and senior rabbi at the Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, said that on Shabbat many area congregations recited prayers for the victims.

“It was an incredible shocking and stunning tragedy,” he said. “Everyone in the Jewish community is feeling like the rest of the community; we can’t believe it happened. Life is so fragile and can end in a split second.”

On Sunday, Congregation Beth haMedrosh Hagagdol-Beth Joseph, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, plans a moment of silence for the victims to coincide with the observance of Tisha b’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar associated with some of Jewish history’s greatest calamities.

“The message of Tisha B’av is that despite all the tragedies, the persecutions, despite all the suffering we still look forward to a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” said Rabbi Ben Greenberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “We see that there can be a future despite all the darkness.”

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on Friday night, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about the incident with their younger children.

“It was emotional,” Cohen said. “There was also the bombing of the Israeli tourists and this hit home for me. I have kids who certainly have gone out to midnight movies.”

Dollin said that many people are participating in communitywide events such as donating to blood banks or attending vigils.

“I don’t think we’ve come together as a Jewish community, but as a general community,” Dollin said. “Many of us have gone to the same theater, and so we are feeling the connection to the general neighborhood. We are not just Jews here; we are fully members of our general community.” 

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil Sunday at the Aurora Municipal Center to honor the victims of the massacre.

“It was really powerful to be with crowds of people directing their anxiety, frustration and confusion to God,” Greenberg said. “As a Jewish member of society and as a rabbi, it is critical to say that we hurt also and that the loss of a life of a 6-year-old child tears our heart as much as it tears anyone’s heart.”

Jason Alexander’s anti-gun tweet makes waves


Following the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo. that killed 12 people, wounding 58 others, Jason Alexander shared his anti-gun stance on ” title=”twitter.com/IJasonAlexander” target=”_blank”>twitter.com/IJasonAlexander.

Despite militarized society, Israel’s strict gun laws keep civilian violence down


First-time visitors to Israel might be taken aback to see groups of armed teenagers walking through a city plaza on a weeknight, or surprised to walk into a public bathroom and see an M-16 laying across the sinks as a soldier washes his face.

But guns are ubiquitous in Israel, where most 18-year-olds are drafted into the army after high school.

However, once those soldiers finish their service two or three years later, they are subject to civilian gun control regulations that are much stricter than American laws.

In fact, it’s pretty much impossible for civilians who live in Israel to acquire an arsenal of weaponry of the sort used by the alleged shooter in last week’s massacre in Aurora, Colo. James E. Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in an Aurora movie theater, legally bought the firearms he used, according to reports, including a semiautomatic rifle, a semiautomatic pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun. Leading up to the shooting, he reportedly bought thousands of bullets online.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

In Israel, assault rifles are banned except for special circumstances. And while political violence in Israel is all too common and gun violence is a growing problem, random shootings of strangers—like the Aurora massacre—are virtually unheard-of here.

Unlike in the United States, where the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution’s Second Amendment, Israel’s department of public security considers gun ownership a privilege, not a right. With few exceptions, gun owners in Israel are limited to owning one pistol, and must undergo extensive mental and physical tests before they can receive a weapon. Those who have not served in the military or in a government volunteer agency must wait until age 27 to apply for a firearms license. Gun owners are limited to 50 rounds of ammunition per year. West Bank settlers can obtain permits to carry guns for security purposes.

Lior Nedivi, an Israeli firearms expert, said that despite Israel’s militarized society, neither soldiers nor veterans engage in extensive gun violence because 18-year-olds are tested for mental and physical fitness before being drafted.

“They don’t recruit everyone,” said Nedivi, who runs a company called Advanced Forensic Science Services. “If you are a person with a record of violence, you will be discharged.”

Nedivi favors allowing private gun ownership with tight regulations, noting that armed civilians have used their guns to stop terrorists during attacks. He said that gun massacres don’t occur in Israel because gun owners here undergo more comprehensive psychological screenings than do U.S. gun owners.

“It’s not guns that kill, it’s people that kill,” Nedivi said. “If this person in Colorado will be screened now, they will say he has mental problems. In Israel, most people like this don’t get a chance to get a gun.”

Gun violence does still occur in Israel, though gun control is not a sensitive political issue.

“We think the society is over-armed,” said Smadar Ben-Natan, a lawyer who co-heads Gun-Free Kitchen Tables, an Israeli coalition to end domestic gun violence. “There are too many weapons going around. There is no justification that these weapons go home and are present in civilian surroundings.”

Rather than lobbying for new laws, Gun-Free Kitchen Tables is pushing for the enforcement of current regulations, which require security guards to leave their weapons in their workplace. Ben-Natan said private security companies often do not abide by the law.

“The private police companies offer an illusion of security,” Ben-Natan said. “They’re not accountable in terms of the public interest. They don’t bear the cost of the precautions that need to be in place. The people that pay this price are the women and family members who get shot.”

For soldiers who take their weapons home on weekends and off nights, the rule is they must be on their person at all times or under double-lock if left at home.

Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes


In the summer of 2008, when James Holmes was 20, he was known as a quiet counselor at Camp Max Straus in Los Angeles County, liked by his campers.

As details have emerged about the background of the now 24-year-old suspected shooter at the midnight massacre at an Aurora, Colo. showing of a Batman sequel on July 20, an unwanted media spotlight has fallen on the 110 acre camp in the Verdugo Mountains run by Jewish Big Brothers and sisters of Los Angeles.

“I’m looking at us all over TMZ,” said one former staff member contacted by The Jewish Journal. “There’s my picture, it’s crazy.”

In an exclusive interview with The Jewish Journal, the staff member, who asked not to be named, confirmed what many friends, colleagues and former neighbors of Holmes have said: He was decent and unremarkable.

“He was a quiet guy,” said the former staffer, who was in close contact with Holmes. “I never would have suspected a thing. He just kept to himself.”

At Camp Max Straus, Holmes was in charge of a group of 10 boys, ages 7 to 10.

“He never got in trouble,” recalled the staffer, who added that there were never any complaints about him from his campers.  While Camp Max Straus activities do not include shooting sports, Holmes did engage in archery with his campers.

The former staffer said Holmes did not seem to hang out with other counselors his age, however.

“It’s not that they didn’t like him,” the staffer said. “It’s just that he wasn’t very social.”

Holmes, the staffer said, was not Jewish.  During the summer, Camp Max Straus serves a primarily non-Jewish population of low-income and disadvantaged youths through ” title=”Chanuka Camp” target=”_blank”>Chanuka Camp.

Since the connection to the camp was revealed on Saturday, July 21, staffers and volunteers have been fielding numerous calls about their now-infamous former counselor, and the group has been working to avoid any implication that the long-running camp is not a safe and secure place. It has had a long track record of improving children’s lives.

The former staffer stressed to The Jewish Journal that nothing in Holmes recent past, even his most recent days, tipped off authorities to imminent danger.

“We had a great summer in 2008,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal, “and we don’t want this backlash to spoil it. It’s unfortunate that they’re screaming about the camp all over the news.”

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