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story.lead_photo.caption James Holmes is shown in this 2012 file photo.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Jurors on Monday moved a step closer to sentencing James Holmes to death for his attack on a Colorado movie theater, taking less than three hours to reject arguments that the former neuroscience student's mental illness means he should not die.

Holmes, who is on antipsychotic drugs, expressed no emotion as Judge Carlos Samour Jr. read the decisions.

The jury was told to return this morning for the final phase in the case, when the nine women and three men will decide whether the 27-year-old Holmes should receive the death penalty or spend life in prison without parole.

Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed, said that prosecutors told her that she would testify today.

"I'm a little overwhelmed, but at the same time my job is to share Jessie with the jury, and I will do that to the best of my ability," she said outside the courthouse.

The jury swiftly rejected Holmes' insanity defense, deciding that he was capable of telling right from wrong when he carried out the theater attack in the Denver suburb of Aurora on July 20, 2012. Their quick decision Monday raised expectations that they will choose a death sentence.

But legal experts said that there's no way to predict that final decision.

Monday's preliminary verdict was highly technical. The jury found that Holmes' mental problems and the portrait his attorneys painted of a kinder, gentler man did not outweigh the horrors of his calculated attack on defenseless moviegoers.

The next stage in the case can be more challenging for each juror, and to choose capital punishment, they must be unanimous, Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said.

"They're making the ultimate decision of life or death, quite literally," Recht said. "All they need is one holdout ... We are far from over on this."

The defense had argued that mental illness reduced Holmes' "moral culpability" and that his personal history made him worthy of mercy. They said that it was schizophrenia, not free will, that drove him to murder. They called his former teachers, friends, sister and parents, who said that "Jimmy" had been a friendly child who withdrew socially as he grew older.

Robert and Arlene Holmes testified that they never suspected their son was mentally ill. But Robert Holmes acknowledged that they rarely communicated in the months before the theater attack.

"He was not a violent person. At least not until the event," Robert Holmes said, referring to the theater attack.

Holmes had been in the neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado. He broke up with his girlfriend and dropped out of school, abandoning his longtime goal of becoming a scientist. He obtained prescription anti-anxiety and antidepressant medicine by seeing a campus psychiatrist, but he hid the depth of his turmoil from everyone, describing it instead in a secret journal.

That notebook -- which Holmes mailed to the psychiatrist hours before opening fire in the theater -- became key evidence. In it, Holmes diagnosed himself with a litany of mental problems and methodically laid out his plans to kill. He wrote that he had tried to fix his brain but failed.

Information for this article was contributed by Thomas Peipert of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/04/2015

Print Headline: Theater gunman's jury rejects insanity defense

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