« "Justice Department Administration of the President's Pardon Power: A Case Study in Institutional Conflict of Interest" | Main | "Federalism in Action: How Conservative States Got Smart on Crime" »

August 24, 2015

Aurora victims present a "parade of pain" at on-going James Holmes sentencing proceedings

One of many benefits I see in giving crime victims certain rights in the criminal justice system is to ensure their voices are heard and their experiences are memoralized in courtroom proceedings even when those voices and experiences may not directly impact sentencing outcomes. In turn, I think it now worth highlighting the on-going proceedings in a Colorado courtroom that are effectively and potently reported in this CNN piece headlined "A parade of pain at James Holmes sentencing." I recommend reading the whole piece, and here are excerpts:

One by one, the wounded and the grieving are telling a Colorado judge how the Aurora movie theater gunman stripped the normal from their lives. Some are sobbing, some are angry. All are shattered by loss. It is a parade of pain that will not change the sentence for the 27-year-old shooter. James Eagan Holmes will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But the inevitable outcome didn't stop the grieving grandfather of the gunman's youngest victim from making a suggestion: "I would challenge the murderer to do the right thing for once in this trial and petition the court for execution by firing squad," said Robert Sullivan.

He was the doting grandfather of 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, who had innocent, shining brown eyes. Her pregnant mother, Ashley Moser, was shot and paralyzed.

Moser said she was looking forward to being a mother of two, but now she's nobody's mommy. She needs constant nursing care. She said she wished Holmes could be sentenced to life as a quadriplegic, just as she and two other shooting victims are. More than 40 people gave victim impact statements on Monday, and at least 40 more are expected on Tuesday....

[M]any of the victims say they feel cheated, and they appeared to seek comfort in demonizing a defendant who took so much from them. A man whose son was gunned down in the theater referred to Holmes' schizophrenia as "a mental hangnail" and said he was disgusted during the trial by his "smirk." He called Holmes' attorneys "horrible people" and said they "fabricated a defense" to pad their resumes.

Beth Craft, whose brother John Larimer was killed, said, "The defendant may be mentally ill, but he is more evil than anything else."...

The trial, Kathleen Pourciau said, was like watching someone get away with something. It felt out of whack, unbalanced. It didn't feel like justice.

"When justice isn't served, there's a brutal message delivered to the victims," she said. "When the punishment doesn't fit the crime, the message to the victims is that your loss, your pain isn't important. The message was that the state of Colorado values the life of a mass murderer more than the people he murdered.

"How many people do you have to kill to get the death penalty?" Pourciau asked. "Why do you even have a death penalty if you don't use it? What signal does this sentence send to Bonnie Kate and others? We care, but not that much?"

A sentence of 12 life terms topped by hundreds of additional years behind bars is "absurd," she added, "the judicial equivalent of beating a dead horse."

August 24, 2015 at 10:21 PM | Permalink


What an unseemly horrifying, disgusting spectacle put on by the lawyer dumbass. I blame lawyer uber-dumbass Judge Cassell for this atrocity. His real agenda is to generate representation for each of these victims.

Prejudicial boohooing without cross examination is a total violation of the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause. For example, one of the dead is an abusive parent, and the life of his children and wife are 100% improved after his death. Shouldn't the defendant get mitigation credit for helping all those people.

Here is the only policy and statute a real advocate for victims rights supports. The Right to Not Be Victimized. The police is worthless. The criminal justice system is worthless. Both are government make work welfare program, for stupid, fat, coffee slurping, secretary chatting up, lazy and uncaring members of the Democratic Party. They are worthless to the victim.

The sole prevention of crime is public self help. Everyone carries a weapon by law. There is a statutory duty to try to kill the violent criminal on the spot. If you fail to try, you get a $100 ticket. There should have been 20 bullets inside the body of the precious lawyer client, at the scene.

Then impeach the Supreme Court, and involuntarily commit all paranoid schizophrenics to getting monthly or, now, three monthly shots of medication administered by another to insure adherence. All rampage killings are the fault of the Supreme Court. Filthy, stupid, know nothing lawyers took control of psychiatry, and stopped it from stopping the 2000 murders by paranoid schizophrenics, now having their lawyer dumbass given rights to refuse treatment. We are not even discussing the 30,000 suicides this lawyer filth dumbasses cause each year, 90% of which are totally preventable, save for the take over of psychiatry by the lawyer filth on the Supreme court. Why? To generate stupid lawyer make work government jobs for lawyers, the usual sole value of the lawyer scum on the Supreme Court.

No violent Revolution has ever been successful, not even the American Revolution, so I do not support one. I would support the lashing of 20 appellate judges for each murder victim. Tie the reptile scum to a tree outside the court. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 12:58:15 AM

Go ahead, Supreme Court scum, call this spectacle an "attestation." It is "testimony" in the sentencing phase. Add the word, attestation, to the hundreds of fictitious concepts of the legal system.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 1:02:35 AM

I long thought you were troubled that victims were ignored, SC, and now you complain they get to speak their peace. Hmmm

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 25, 2015 8:20:03 AM

This case shows exactly why the Supreme Court was absolutely wrong to bar mandatory death sentences.

I hope the hold-out jerk on the jury feels good about himself/herself.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2015 9:30:31 AM

If the USSC allowed mandatory death sentencing, many states would not have it & it would just move power away from the people on juries -- who apparently we can't trust when they are "wrong" -- to individual prosecutorial discretion.

It would also likely lead to more cases of holdout jurors if they knew that if they found the person guilty of a capital offense that it would result in a mandatory death sentence. This was noted by the Supreme Court (led by three Republican nominees appointed by Ike, Nixon and Ford) when it opposed mandatory death sentencing.

Providing a suitable role for victims in the process, including those who oppose the death penalty (who in various cases asked for it not to be applied since they thought it unjust & the state did so anyway), is anyways, quite appropriate. There are various ways to help the victims without interfering with the process.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 25, 2015 10:24:46 AM

Prof. Berman. They get to speak their piece as a Trojan Horse to needing representation by lawyers at taxpayer expense to navigate the complicated legal system. Next time you see Judge Cassell, ask him if he believes victims should have representation in making their attestations.

The interest of victims is to not be victimized. It is not to get an opportunity to display private grief for the record. Their grief is self evident. Their grief is embarrassing. Their grief is already known. In some cases, the victim was harmful, and the survivors have been given a benefit by his murder. Should those survivors get to testify as for sentencing mitigation? When a drug dealer is killed, should neighbors be called in to testify, their property values have increased by 40% since his death?

I support all additional information to help the court make a decision. Why not call it testimony, allow cross examination, and include benefits of the crime to survivors, then take these into consideration? It is the fictitious and lying nature of the word, attestation, that bothers me the most.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 10:26:06 AM

For students. From Wikipedia article on Victim Impact Statements.

"In 1991, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a victim impact statement in the form of testimony was allowed during the sentencing phase of a trial in Payne v. Tennessee 501 U.S. 808 (1991). It ruled that the admission of such statements did not violate the Constitution and that the statements could be ruled as admissible in death penalty cases."

The Court used the word "attestation," not subject to confrontation or cross examination as testimony would be.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 10:43:45 AM

Victims seem to think their "interest" includes making such statements.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 25, 2015 10:45:37 AM

"If the USSC allowed mandatory death sentencing many states would not have it & it would just move power away from the people on juries -- who apparently we can't trust when they are "wrong" -- to individual prosecutorial discretion."

So what? Juries don't get to sentence in many cases, and the issue is not one of trust, but one of not allowing the possibility of unbridled discretion where some asshole murders 12 people. But hey, the Supreme Court said so, so it's all good.

"Victims seem to think their "interest" includes making such statements."

God, you are an obnoxious little twit aren't you?

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2015 8:40:48 PM

This expression of self evident grief, anger, anxiety has a retributionist basis. People are arguing for symmetrical treatment. They are expressing their suffering, implying the defendant should suffer more than planned. Retribution, as a purpose of the criminal law, is from the Bible, a book written by Iraqi and Palestinian peasants. Do we really wish to use the thinking of those guys as a model for modern policy setting?

The prosecutor really represents living future victims who are paying his salary. So the attestations do not serve the purpose of incapacitation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 11:43:26 PM

There is one situation where I strongly support the expression of anger, grief and anxiety by the survivors of the rampage killer.

From the article: "How many people do you have to kill to get the death penalty?" Pourciau asked. "Why do you even have a death penalty if you don't use it? What signal does this sentence send to Bonnie Kate and others? We care, but not that much?"

If the surviving family members want to effectively express their strong emotions, I strongly support them if they decide to beat the ass of the judge, that pro-criminal, pro-lawyer rent seeking, subhuman abomination. He has no humanity, no recognition that the survivors are human beings.

Do not kill him because that will only help the 10 people who want his job. They may be worse adversaries to victims. Beat his ass. To deter, specifically.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2015 11:48:52 PM

"So what? Juries don't get to sentence in many cases, and the issue is not one of trust, but one of not allowing the possibility of unbridled discretion where some asshole murders 12 people. But hey, the Supreme Court said so, so it's all good."

They don't get "unbridled discretion" ... the "issue" is how much discretion they should get. And, in this country, we do trust the juries - the "conscience of the community" -- with a lot of discretion here. The Supreme Court (and individual states, following the choices of elected legislators) "say so" in regard to mandatory death penalties for specific reasons, here supported by three Republican nominees. For various reasons which I alluded to. I thought the basis of the rule relevant.

As to the last point, SC wants to end a practice (or alter it) and in process noted victims did not have an "interest" in what they were doing. What victims and victim rights groups strongly think they do have an interest in. Why is it obnoxious to note this? It is strange for YOU of all people to say that given your support of victims. OTOH, if it is just about calling me names, I understand it more.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 26, 2015 12:28:12 PM

Give every victim a rifle. Let the perp loose on a football field and give him five seconds to run. This is why God made rifles.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 26, 2015 12:56:17 PM

Joe. I did not call you any names in this exchange. You are not a lawyer. I respect your opinion, and find it intelligent. You have yet to adopt the most devastating and conclusive argument against the death penalty. The Werther Effect. None of the lawyers have either.

But I demand fairness and accuracy credit in bringing it up.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 26, 2015 6:14:41 PM

Um. jurors get guidance--but as a practical matter they have unbridled discretion since there are no consequences to their decisions.

As of the I thought relevant snip--bottom line--the "rule" is a made up one. And the "we trust juries" elides the problem of the holdout who dictates the sentence.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 26, 2015 8:05:08 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB