The jury in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting trial said Monday that it would keep the death penalty as a possible sentence in the case, allowing the trial to continue into a final phase that will determine the convicted gunman’s punishment.

Jurors had already found James Holmes guilty of shooting and killing 12 people and wounding 70 others inside a movie theater in 2012. The panel has been contemplating whether Holmes should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Once Holmes was found guilty, the trial moved into a penalty phase that will ultimately have three parts. The jurors essentially have to agree twice to keep the death penalty on the table before they enter the final segment, when they will determine Holmes’s sentence.

Jurors agreed Monday not to drop the death penalty option, reaching a decision in the penalty phase’s second segment that was read aloud by the judge on Monday afternoon.

During the first segment of the penalty phase, jurors were asked to determine whether prosecutors had proved that at least one aggravating factor was present in the case. The jury said last month that the prosecution proved these factors were there, inching closer to considering a possible death sentence.

Now, the trial moves into the third and final portion, which will involve additional testimony and end with Holmes being sentenced.

During the portion that just concluded, Holmes’s attorneys presented what are known as mitigating factors, which would argue for a life sentence rather than a sentence of death by lethal injection.

People including Holmes’s sister and father testified and recalled his younger years. Holmes’s attorneys say his mental illness was to blame for the crimes, while prosecutors argued that he was sane at the time and should be held responsible.

A jury in Denver cleared the way for James Holmes to receive the death penalty for killing 12 moviegoers in a 2012 mass shooting. (Reuters)

Holmes’s attorneys had also argued during the trial that he should be found not guilty due to his mental state.

Had the jurors agreed Monday that the aggravating factors were outweighed by the mitigating ones, the penalty phase would have wrapped up and Holmes would have been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

The jurors are still able to determine if they want Holmes to face a life or death sentence, but the decision Monday allows the death penalty to remain a possibility in the case.

A recent poll found that people in Colorado strongly support a death sentence for Holmes, saying by a two-to-one margin they preferred this to a sentence of life in prison. The death penalty is rarely carried out in the state, with fewer than two dozen death sentences and just one execution over the past four decades.


[This post has been updated.]