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March 28, 2013

Theater shooting suspect offers guilty plea

DENVER — Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes has offered to plead guilty and serve the rest of his life in prison to avoid the death penalty — a deal that would bring a swift end to the courtroom battle and circumvent a prolonged debate over his sanity.

Prosecutors haven’t said whether they would accept the offer, and victims and survivors of last summer’s massacre were divided on what should be done.

Melisa Cowden, whose ex-husband was killed in the theater, said Wednesday she was resolutely opposed to a plea deal.

“He didn’t give 12 people the chance to plea bargain and say, ‘Let’s see if you’re going to shoot me or not,”’ said Cowden, whose two teenage daughters were with their father when he was killed.

The attack during a crowded midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” left a dozen people dead and 70 injured.

Prosecutors have said Holmes planned the assault for months, casing the theater complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora, amassing a small arsenal and rigging potentially deadly booby-traps in his apartment.

Then on July 20, he donned a police-style helmet and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the theater crowd and opened fire, prosecutors said.

The plea offer, made by Holmes’ lawyers on his behalf sometime before March 12, was disclosed as a defense court filing on Wednesday. It was made public just days before the prosecution was set to announce whether they would seek the death penalty.

The filing didn’t include the specifics of the offer. It said only that Holmes would agree to life in prison without parole — instead of the death penalty — and didn’t mention any other concessions.

Pierce O’Farrill, who was shot three times, said he would welcome an agreement that would imprison Holmes for life. The years of court struggles ahead would likely be emotionally stressful for victims, he said.

“I don’t see his death bringing me peace,” O’Farrill said. “To me, my prayer for him was that he would spend the rest of his life in prison and hopefully, in all those years he has left, he could find God and ask for forgiveness himself.”

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