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Death Penalty Or Life In Prison? Aurora Shooting Trial Goes To Sentencing Phase

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This morning, sentencing begins in the Aurora theater shooting trial. Last week, James Holmes was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 more at a midnight movie premiere. Now jurors must decide one final question. Should Holmes get the death penalty? Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Sandy Phillips didn't realize just how much stress she was carrying before hearing the guilty verdicts last week. Her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the theater.

SANDY PHILLIPS: Many of the victims' families cried, really cried, for the first time with relief.

MARKUS: Phillips has been in court every day for the last three months watching testimony. Now she, like other family members of victims, may take the stand for sentencing.

PHILLIPS: So being able to look at him face to face, straight on, doesn't intimidate me at all.

MARKUS: The guilt phase of the trial was all about the facts. But Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy prosecutor in Denver, says in sentencing, witnesses can talk for the first time about the pain of losing a loved one or how an injury has changed their life.

CRAIG SILVERMAN: And you better get the handkerchiefs and the tissues ready because it's going to get even more emotional than the first part of the case.

MARKUS: Silverman also expects Holmes's family to testify on his behalf. Given the large number of victims in this case, sentencing is expected to take weeks, at the end of which the jury has two choices, life in prison without parole or the death penalty. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.