As victims and family members of deceased victims make their way in to the Arapahoe County courtroom facilities in Centennial, Colo. on Tuesday, the second day of James Holmes’ preliminary hearing in the Aurora theater massacre, talk has already begun about a plea deal.
Newscasters from NBC News and others hint at the possibility Holmes could plead guilty to all charges (160 counts of first degree murder and attempted murder per USA Today), and that the prosecution could refuse to seek the death penalty as a result.
The personal cost to victims and their families, if such a deal is reached with the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding as many as 70, might be diminished by the mini-trial being held all this week. That’s because police testimony and other information that was previously withheld is now being provided to those who desperately want to understand all that happened the night their loved one was harmed or died.
One of those in attendance, MaryEllen Hanson, the great aunt of Veronica Moser Sullivan, says she thinks “it is really important to know the details,” and that “there’s been a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of information that hasn’t been revealed,” ABC News reported.
The only way to get that information, typically, is through a trial. But in typical judicial circumstances, if a plea deal is reached between the prosecution and the defense the victims and their families in the case don’t get to know a lot of the data they would find out in a trial setting.
Victims and their loved ones in Colorado are an exception to that rule this week.
Yet there is another cost that isn’t always as clear in plea deal arrangements: there is always the possibility that the guilty, like James Holmes, can eventually go free even if they were told it was a life without parole sentence.
Perish the thought!
That’s because the laws of the land are constantly changing from state to state when it comes to incarceration and sentencing. Voters suddenly choose to stop funding prisons by agreeing to change laws that help reduce taxpayer costs, which require letting inmates out early, for example.
Then there is also the possibility that someone who once confessed to a crime, especially if there is a mental incompetence issue at stake, like in this case, may recount their confession, which can lead later to a new prosecutor (or the public) not feeling the same need to keep the inmate behind bars anymore.
The payoff in agreeing to a plea deal in this case is that it would save taxpayers and the DA’s office considerable money, as well as reduce time away from jobs for detectives, police officers, prosecutors, experts and other professionals called to testify or assist in some way. Additionally, it would save the family members from having to be present or endure what is being endured this week emotionally.
And there are some Aurora theater massacre victims and their families who want to avoid this revisiting of the horrendous crime, such as Sandy Phillips and her husband, who lost their 24-year-old daughter Jessica Ghawi.
“I’m not strong enough to go through this right now,” she said. “It takes you back to your own grief and doubles it.”
Indeed it does, which is why many victims and their families agree to plea deals as long as their is no possibility of parole.
(Century Theater shooting suspect photo credit: ABC News)