Denver D.A. Is Wrong In Seeking Shooter’s Death!


Am I the only one who is dismayed by Arapahoe District Attorney George Brauchler’s decision this week to seek the death penalty in the Aurora movie shooting case?

The defense offered to have their client plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison without a chance of parole. But that wasn’t good enough for Prosecutor Brauchler, who rejected the offer after “consulting with 800 victims and their families.” The Denver D.A. declared: “For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.”

Holmes has schizophrenia. 

Here is an excerpt from a blog that I first posted July 26th last year about the Death Penalty and the Holmes case.

FROM MY FILES FRIDAY   Should Prosecutors Seek the Death Penalty in the Batman Movie Case?

I don’t believe that persons whose crimes were prompted by a severe mental disorder such as schizophrenia should be executed. I do not believe a person with an impaired brain is as culpable as someone who murders for profit.  What follows is my response to the reasons that often are given to justify the death penalty in these cases.

1.  MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE JUST AN EXCUSE. There are still prosecutors who don’t believe mental illnesses are real or really should matter when it comes to administering justice. “Just because you have a mental disorder, doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for your actions,” a prosecutor told me. Perhaps, but that raises a question: if a 60 year old man suffered a stroke and blacked out while driving his car and ran through an intersection killing two pedestrians, would the state execute him? What Holmes did is reprehensible, but if he was psychotic should he be held accountable in the same manner as someone whose thinking wasn’t impaired by a brain disorder?  One reason why prosecutors and jurors are suspect of an insanity defense is because defense attorneys often use it inappropriately because they don’t have any other way to explain their client’s actions. They can do this because there are plenty of psychiatrists and mental health professionals who are willing to be mouthpieces for hire. That’s why I believe the court should be in charge of hiring psychiatrists to evaluate defendants, not the two sides who both have a stake in the diagnosis. Several European countries handle insanity cases that way which makes more sense to me than relying on bought-for testimony.

2. THE PUBLIC MUST BE PROTECTED  I agree, but I think this often is used for a dodge for what really is going on – prosecutors wanting to look tough and appease voters.  The movie Fatal Attraction originally ended with Alex Forrest, a revenge driven, jilted lover being arrested after she terrorized her married boyfriend and boiled the family bunny in a pot on the stove. But during test screenings, audiences made it clear that they wanted a much harsher punishment. The movie’s ending was changed and Forrest was fatally shot.  Admittedly, that’s a Hollywood ending.  Just the same, it’s telling. Mental illnesses terrify and confuse us, and when persons with mental illnesses are responsible for unspeakable carnage, we want them removed from society — permanently. Killing a “psycho-siren” – as one film critic called Forrest – may have made the test audience feel better leaving the theater, but is putting someone to death who has a brain disorder just and fair? Or is it simply barbaric?

3. IF WE DON’T KILL THEM, THEY WILL GET OUT AGAIN AND HURT SOMEONE.  If someone actually is found insane but not guilty, what happens to them? Most are locked in “forensic” cellblocks at state prisons where they get little if any meaningful psychiatric treatment. If someone does get help and is ready for discharge, judges generally balk. That’s why prisoners with mental disorders generally spent three times longer in jail than anyone else. It makes you wonder if we really believe that someone who is sick can recovery and, if so, do they deserve another chance.

4. IT WILL GIVE THE VICTIMS CLOSURE. This is simply not true. Accepting a life without parole plea bargain is swift closure. A death penalty case takes as many as twenty years and countless hearings, causing those who were victims to relive their nightmares again and again.

In the case of Jared Lee Loughner, prosecutors were able to get a favorable plea bargain by threatening a death sentence.  Of course, Loughner is the gunman who murdered six, including a child, and wounded thirteen, including  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, outside a Tuscon, Arizona supermarket on January 8, 2011.  In return for pleading guilty, the death sentence was dropped and Loughner agreed to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

Dr. Christina Pietz, who treated Loughner in prison, told the judge that Loughner had displayed depressive symptoms in 2006 and was formally diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2011. Dr. Pietz stated that she believed that, after having been forcibly medicated for more than a year in prison, Loughner had expressed remorse and was a changed individual, and that he was competent to stand trial and agree to a plea.

Put simply, Loughner finally got the treatment that he needed to regain clear thought, which made it okay to sentence him to prison for the rest of his life for horrible crimes that he committed while he was delusional and sick.

A reporter from USA TODAY interviewed the survivors of the Tucson shootings and I want to share one of the victims’ statements with you.

Randy Gardner who was shot in the foot outside the Safeway, said he was grateful that Justice Department kept everyone up to date on Loughner’s court case. He said each was asked their opinions when it came to an outcome, and whether life in prison would be acceptable.

“We’re all appreciative of the deal that was struck,” Gardner said. “They asked us how we felt about the death penalty. They talked to us individually. But as a group we were pretty much on the same page. We weren’t out for vengeance.”

Gardner also wondered what would have happened had Loughner gotten the help that court testimony showed he needed.

Dr. Christina Pietz, Loughner’s forensic psychologist, painted a picture of a troubled man, one who isolated himself from friends and family.

Gardner, a former mental-health therapist, said he’d encountered troubled men who had been worse off than Loughner.

“It’s truly sad he didn’t receive attention prior to this,” said Gardner, a former mental health therapist. “My thinking is we really have got to be our brother’s keeper here and reach out when we see people struggling and get people help.”


If James Holmes proves to be as sick at Loughner, then there is a chance that he will end up with the same life without any chance of parole sentence.

Shame on all of us if we don’t learn anything from these tragedies. Shame on us if we don’t listen to what Randy Gardner said.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. i spent 43 years in behavioral health…and i have seen you speak…while i agree with most you say..this dude in denver is not impacted by a mental illness…he is plain evil…and i agree with seeking the death penalty….

    • Newton FIgg says

      Why do you say he’s not “impacted by a mental illness”? If he did have schizophrenia, would you agree with Pete that the death penalty is inappropriate? What do you think of the Jared Loughner case?

      • if he is impacted by a mental illness..for sure he should not receive the death sentence and should get treatment…i just dont think

        this kid is impacted by a mental illness…

    • To what end?

      James Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist.

      She failed him.

      If he was delusional and homicidal, as today’s news seems to suggest she thought he was, why didn’t she have him committed, at least for the 72 hour hold? That is Colorado state law. She could have done that.

      Instead she had his student ID revoked.

      Who’s evil?

      • I do not know all of the facts obviously but i think i read somewhere that his Doc did all she could which was report her patient if 1. he has verbalized he will harm himself or 2. he has verbalized that he will hurt other people. These are the only 2 things that would break confidentiality in client/doc relationships! As far as the 302 of him i agree that that should have been done as to medicate him and stabilize but we don’t know who had the power to do that or maybe his doc should have done that

    • Yolanda67 says

      Jim, clearly you didn’t work in the mental illness field.

  2. Terri Wasilenko says

    James Holmes was working with a psychiatrist prior to the mass shooting. His psychiatrist reported his ideations about killing people to the police a month before the shooting. Mr.Holmes was unmedicated and living with a brain illness that distorted reality. He does not deserve the death penalty. He deserves prison time (life without parole) and the opportunity (mandated) to receive the mental health treatment that was so lacking prior to his crime.
    I do not believe he is a sociopath. Killing another person to obtain justice and closure brings more grief and guilt to the persons left behind trying to make sense of it all.

    • Bravo Terri! I could not have said it any better!! You are so right! One of my dearest friends has schizophrenia and i often ask people to imagine living with this illness? first what you would think obviously is not REAL and 2nd half of the people that have psychosis are actually unaware they are even sick which i have just been researching this, it has something to do with the brain development or the disease but anyway i am sooo glad to read that others have the same opinion i do! I am a grad student in psych and my research is on Schizophrenia!

    • Yolanda67 says

      I wonder why everyone who sees that he is very ill thinks he deserves life in prison without parole. I certainly don’t think he deserves this, or that it serves the survivors. Even Lt. Calley wasn’t treated so harshly.

      • Terri Wasilenko says

        Hi. Since the prosecuter is seeking the death penalty, James Holmes doesn’t have a lot of options. The 2 attorneys have been doing a lot of posturing. Holmes’ defense attorney would not give the prosecuter a piece of information he wanted. Holmes’s attorney went public saying Holmes would plead not guilty. Then Holmes’ attorney said Holmes would only plead guilty if he wasn’t executed. So then the prosecuter decided he would seek the death penalty for Mr. Holmes. Now it looks like it will be an insanity defense trial. Life in prison with no parole and the opportunity to receive mandated mental health treatment is much better than being dead. I think James Holmes has a no-fault brain disease, would benefit from mental health services and doesn’t deserve execution. He slipped through the gaps in mental health services in the community but maybe he’ll have a chance in prison to receive mental health services. This whole scenario is so warped but it is reality.

  3. advocate4treatment says

    James Holmes does not deserve the death penalty but should receive treatment when he is serving a life sentence. The tragedy is that had he received treatment, which most likely would have had to have been through involuntary inpatient or outpatient treatment since he wasn’t aware of the harm his delusional thinking and actions would cause. I think it is important to recognize that severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia do require intervention especially because half of the.people with that illness are not aware they need help.

  4. It is not surprising that a mental health worker would label a mentally ill person as ‘plain evil.’ Stigmatization and abuse of the mentally ill runs rampant thru the health care system. I, and many others refuse state and gov’t subsidized mental health care for this very reason. Those among us who can’t afford private care must advocate for ourselves as best we can, as we speak up against their use of offensive language toward us and the humiliating, often child-like manner in which they speak to us. We are talked down to, and regarded as incapable of making decisions for our mental health treatment. Thats the tip of the iceberg – a few weeks ago I saw to it that a psychiatrist was disciplined for shouting in public a derogatory name to a patient. The list of improvements to the mental health system is very very long, – practicing the Golden Rule is just one of them!

    ‘Plain evil’, I certainly see in the face of the Arapahoe D.A.

    How is one judged by their peers, when only the victims and families are asked opinions on Holmes’ sentencing? I wasn’t asked! Were recovered individuals with schizophrenia asked? How about law-abiding, tax-paying people with mental illnesses? Oh, perhaps they are not considered worthy or responsible human beings. After all, many successful people have worked long and hard at staying sane and contribute much to their communities. Patty Duke and Ted Turner are two who have gone public with their mental illness.

    Its easy to flip a switch to kill or lock up for life, and then go about our lives. Those who treat mental illnesses, work as guards, judges, lawyers, teachers and advocates have it easy. All they have to do is live life.The mentally ill have to walk thru fire, thru stigma, undergo intensive mind, soul, and heart searching to find peace with their mental illness, and then,

    IF they;re lucky, can go about living. My God in Heaven, if these people don’t deserve the utmost respect from their fellow humans…

    I damn the death penalty for any that has mental illness, retardation or brain injury. These unfortunates already have a life sentence of severe illness or incapability. WHAT KIND OF HUMAN MONSTERS WOULD ADVOCATE LOCKING THESE PEOPLE UP FOR LIFE? Treat them, supervise them, give them kindness and see what happens when the word forgiveness is applied.

  5. Yolanda67 says

    I think it’s very difficult for someone who hasn’t seen psychosis up close to reconcile that all the premeditation the ill person engages is is based on a delusional reality. People just can’t grasp that. In my family’s case, my ill relative does remarkably complex things when very ill, and they are often things they would not bother to do, or might have a hard time doing, when not psychotically driven.

  6. Bruce Hanson says

    Having spent so many years with my son and many others with serious mental illnesses, most notably schizophrenia, I want to say just how wrong this is. Without knowing the shooter at all, I feel almost certainly I can construct a scenario that rings true. Obviously, he was extremely intellgent. I would guess that towards the end of his time at the University of California, he began to experience the beginnings of schizophrenia. It is terrifying. My son said I suddenly looked like a demon, sounded like a demon, and my skin felt like I had scales. I would conjecture that James, being so intelligent, was frightenedembarrassed, and decided to go somewhere out of sight of parents and friends and solve the problem himself. What I know from my son and others is that there is a very narrow gap between in control and out of control. Once you have passed over that point, you are responding to a world that is terrifying and threatening. The unfortunate truth is that, as a society, we are only able to respond once a fire has started. If you don’t know them, haven’t worked with them, the mentally can be scary. Those teachers, doctors, and security at UCD in Denver did what always happens. “Quick, leave as fast as you can. We don’t want to see you again.” Before my son got help, I had to go and ask the police what to do when a terrifying incident arrived, knowing well that it would, but no one could do anything ahead of time. If someone in DenverAurora had been proactive, no one would have died, James would have been in the hospital, with the possibility of getting his illness under control, and we wouldn’t be talking about this. It is a tragedy in every direction )-B