By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The father of the Colorado movie massacre gunman pleaded on Tuesday for his son's life, showing the jury photos of family vacations during the days when he said James Holmes was "a really excellent kid" who is mentally ill and not to blame for his July 2012 rampage.
Bob Holmes, who with his wife Arlene has attended the proceedings on the outskirts of Denver almost every day since they began in late April, made his long-anticipated appearance on the witness stand during the trial's punishment phase. Arlene Holmes was expected to testify next.
The Holmes family lives near San Diego, California, and James had moved to Aurora, a Denver suburb, for graduate school.
On July 16, the jury found Holmes, 27, guilty on all counts related to the massacre in which he killed 12 people and wounded 70. The panel of nine women and three men must now decide whether the former neuroscience graduate student will be executed or serve life with no parole.
Bob Holmes, a statistician, said he and his wife had no idea their son was suffering from mental illness before the massacre. They did know he split up with his girlfriend, and that he dropped out of graduate school.
"I assumed he might be depressed. That was our main concern," the shooter's father said, adding they had made plans to see their son.
Displaying photographs of family gatherings and camping trips, and home movies of the defendant as a child surrounded by relatives, defense attorney Tamara Brady asked his father whether he still loved him.
Holmes's father replied that he did.
"Why?" Brady asked.
"Well, he's my son, and we always got along pretty well, and he was actually a really excellent kid," Bob Holmes said.
Attending the trial had been a "very difficult experience," he added.
In December, Holmes' parents issued a statement saying their son is "not a monster," and begging for him to be spared the death penalty.
In that statement, they said they spend "every moment" thinking about the victims of the shooting. But they said their son suffers "severe mental illness," had never harmed anyone before, and had no previous criminal history.
Holmes opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, shotgun and pistol inside a theater packed with 400 people watching a midnight screening of a Batman film. Before leaving for the multiplex in Aurora, he booby-trapped his apartment with explosives. He also donned a helmet, body armor and gas mask.
On Monday, the gunman's younger sister broke down and sobbed as she became the first of his relatives to testify at the trial, telling jurors her brother's murders were completely out of character, and that she still loves him.
She said James Holmes became withdrawn when the family moved about 400 miles south to the San Diego area from Salinas, and that she had little contact with him after he left for graduate school at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
Last week, the jury found the prosecution had proved "aggravating factors" which, the state argued, made Holmes' crimes especially heinous and deserving of execution.
Defense attorneys are now calling witnesses in hopes they can prove mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating ones.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)