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Parents of James Holmes, alleged Colorado shooter, say he shouldn't get the death penalty

  1. The parents of the alleged Aurora, Colorado, theater shooter pleaded with prosecutors to spare his life in a letter published by the Denver Post on Friday.
  2. James Holmes allegedly shot and killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater on July 20, 2012.
  3. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reasons of insanity to the shooting, which would rule out the death sentence. But prosecutors argue the death penalty is appropriate, contending that Holmes knew what he was doing even if he was disturbed.

James Holmes's parents say he's mentally ill

James Holmes

James Holmes in a courtroom during his arraignment. (RJ Sangosti / Denver Post via Getty Images)

The long-delayed trial of James Holmes, the accused Aurora, Colorado, theater shooter, is set to begin early next year, with jury selection scheduled to begin on January 20.

In advance of the trial, Robert and Arlene Holmes, Holmes' parents, released their first public statement to ask the prosecution allow a plea deal for a life sentence, instead of forcing the case to work through a potentially lengthy trial:

We understand that if our son is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could go to an institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill for the remainder of his life. This result would prevent any future harm to him and others.

We realize treatment in an institution would be best for our son. We love our son, we have always loved him, and we do not want him to be executed. We also decry the need for a trial. A lengthy trial requires everyone to relive those horrible moments in time, causing additional trauma.

In the criminal justice system, the prosecution and defense can agree to a sentence of life in prison, without parole, in exchange for a guilty plea. If that happened, our son would be in prison the rest of his life, but no one would have to relive those horrible events at a trial the media has permission to televise.

The parents stated that they morally oppose the death penalty, but particularly in cases in which the defendant is mentally ill:

We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.

We are not alone in our sentiments. The Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, an international organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness formed the "Prevention, Not Execution Project," aimed at ending the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.

Read the full letter at the Denver Post.

Opposition builds to death sentence for mentally ill

death chamber

A death chamber in Indiana. (Scott Olson / Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

Critics of the death penalty have increased pressure in recent years to stop the executions of mentally ill death row inmates. A federal court on December 3 halted the execution of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill man who was previously convicted of shooting and killing his mother- and father-in-law.

Americans oppose the death penalty for persons with mental illness by a margin of two to one, according to a new survey by Public Policy Polling. Out of 943 registered voters, 58 percent said they oppose capital punishment for people with mental illness, while only 28 percent supported it.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposes the death penalty, has put executions in the state on indefinite hold as long as he remains in office. But executions could continue if Hickenlooper's successor lifts the reprieve.

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