The jury in the Colorado theater shooting trial didn't waste any time in returning a verdict Thursday: Guilty of mass murder.
The verdict should not have been a surprise. The accused, James Holmes, was captured at the scene. He was wearing his murderous terrorist outfit, still carrying weapons used in the massacre, and still living his macabre dream. His only defense was that he was mentally ill. That defense had worked in other infamous murder trials, but not in this one.
I wrote in April that two trials would determine the future of capital punishment in this country, but I did not have the foresight to include the trial of James Holmes. This verdict, too, will set a precedent. The rejection of the mental illness defense shows a sophistication of the Colorado jurors, who recognized that mental illness, while debilitating and even destructive, does not normally provoke murderous rampages.
Whether Holmes should get the death penalty for the taking of 12 lives is yet to be decided, but if the jury has rejected the "innocent by reason of insanity" defense, it might be willing to let the punishment fit the crime. Executions are clearly on the wane in America, but the death penalty is part of America's sentencing traditions. Only in the last 100 years or so have Americans doubted the appropriateness of the death penalty, which once extended in some states to first-degree burglary, kidnapping and rape, and not just murder. The reversal of some capital sentences because of new evidence has given the public cause for doubt. In this case, however, there is no doubt about the defendant's culpability for the crime, only whether execution is appropriate punishment.