By: Rebekah Smith

 

While Colorado may be nearly a thousand miles away, the Aurora shooting reverberated across the nation.

In light of the shooter’s upcoming trial, the Illinois Wesleyan University trial law class has been using his case as the basis for their entire class.

In the final weeks of the semester, this will culminate in a mock trial.

On Friday, July 20, 2012, a gunman opened fire on the audience at a midnight showing of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” leaving 12 people dead and 58 injured.

James Eagan Holmes, a former University of Colorado Denver neuroscience doctoral student, was arrested that night in the parking lot of the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado.  10 days later, Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.

Now, over eight months later, Holmes was informed that he will face execution if convicted.

George Brauchler, one of the prosecutors in this case, said, “For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.”

Marcus Weaver, one of the survivors of the shooting, demanded Holmes enter a guilty plea so the families and survivors “can all move forward.”

To avoid the death sentence likely to be sought by the prosecution, it is anticipated that Holmes’ attorneys will seek an insanity plea, claiming Holmes was legally insane at the time of the shooting.

“Holmes and mental illness are the main culprits,” said Matthew Rooney, a junior in the IWU trial law class. “No one who isn’t mentally ill would have been able to go through with such a heinous crime like this one.

“That said, there are ways to control mental illness, and not all mentally unstable people are mass murderers, so the majority of the blame has to fall on Holmes.”

Prior to the shooting, Holmes stockpiled over 6,000 rounds of ammunition and four firearms. He also booby-trapped his apartment to explode if triggered.

According to an FBI statement, Holmes’ plan was to create a distraction, bringing the police to his home and leaving fewer resources at the theater four miles away.

Dr. Robert Kearney, the professor of Illinois Wesleyan University’s trial law class, has chosen to shadow the Aurora case.

He said that he selects a high profile court case and the class will litigate throughout the semester.

Students will wrestle with contemporary issues like “where guns fit into our society, especially where there are so many regional differences concerning guns, and how they are protected by the second amendment,” Kearney said.

The question remains as to whether third parties should share some responsibility.

Kearney said, “We can all have opinions, but in our system, the jury has the final call because the jury represents all of us.”

Dr. Kearney has his Juris Doctor from Notre Dame and practiced law before joining the IWU faculty.

On Wednesday, April 24, the class will conduct an unscripted trial in front of McLean County Judge Robb and a community representative jury.

Plaintiffs are seeking through a trial by jury “$800,000,000 in compensation to redress victim injuries and any other remedies the court deems appropriate.”

Included in the trial will be witnesses played by IWU students. Also testifying will be an Illinois State University psychology specialist in adult aggression to evaluate the mental state of Holmes and a United States army private to offer testimony on marketing military-style weapons to the public.

IWU students are getting a first-hand experience of civil litigation, determining negligence and liability of corporations rather than the yet undetermined guilt or innocence of Holmes.

In their trial, they are separated into four legal teams: a plaintiff representing the victims and three defense councils each representing a potentially liable corporation – Smith & Wesson (guns), Warner Brothers (violence in films) and Cinemark Century 16 Theater (security measures).

The students have spent the semester learning how to think, read, and write like trial attorneys.

Civil law determines whether parties are liable for the injuries suffered by the victims because of negligence.

Aaron Smith, a junior in the trial law class, said, “For me, there’s no question about whether or not Holmes is guilty. This class is a fascinating opportunity to get our feet wet in an academic environment without the rigors of law school or the sink-or-swim nature of the real world.”

Will Lawrence III, a senior who will be attending the University of Virginia School of Law, said, “This class is one of the most realistic trial simulations you will find, and that includes law school. We are guided by an experienced attorney, go to trial in front of a real judge, and appeal to a jury selected from our peers.”

The trial law students wish to extend their gratitude especially to Judge Robb and the jurors who will be responsible for determining liability.

a potentially liable corporation – Smith & Wesson (guns), Warner Brothers (violence in films) and Cinemark Century 16 Theater (security measures).

The students have spent the semester learning how to think, read, and write like trial attorneys.

Civil law determines whether parties are liable for the injuries suffered by the victims because of negligence.

Aaron Smith, a junior in the trial law class, said, “For me, there’s no question about whether or not Holmes is guilty. This class is a fascinating opportunity to get our feet wet in an academic environment without the rigors of law school or the sink-or-swim nature of the real world.”

Will Lawrence III, a senior who will be attending the University of Virginia School of Law, said, “This class is one of the most realistic trial simulations you will find, and that includes law school. We are guided by an experienced attorney, go to trial in front of a real judge, and appeal to a jury selected from our peers.”
The trial law students wish to extend their gratitude especially to Judge Robb and the jurors who will be responsible for determining liability.