James Holmes’ parents, Robert and Arlene, probably shouldn’t be talking about the death penalty

Robert and Arlene Holmes

You might have seen this: James Holmes’ parents, Robert and Arlene, are saying he should be spared the death penalty — and a trial — and instead just be institutionalized.

First things first: if your child is one of the major American ‘crime horror stories’ of the past decade, the decisions you make can sometimes be perplexing. Peter Lanza ended up giving a profile to The New Yorker; there were certainly pros and cons to that approach. We have absolutely no idea how these parents feel, the decisions they made that they question, the small moments they turn over, etc. We cannot possibly relate to their experience.

That said, they probably shouldn’t be talking about this case in the media. 

Here’s why, IMHO:

1. For better or worse — for however much blame for someone you want to place on their parents — these people are still viewed as the parents of someone who went to a major movie opening and killed 12 people. Anything they say, even in defense of their son, will be drowned out by the masses clamoring for justice (and vengeance). That’s society, at base.

2. That shooting happened in July of 2012. It’s December of 2014. It’s a week before Christmas. Why say this / bring this up now? Jury selection isn’t until January 20 — and may get pushed back — and the trial likely doesn’t start until June or July of 2015. Why not make this point then, or after the verdict but before sentencing? The timing seems odd.

3. I agree, in general, that the death penalty doesn’t make much sense. I also think “death penalty” tends to mean “sit around 25 years through a bunch of appeals.” Robert and Arlene Holmes would probably pass away before their child was put to death, in all honesty. They likely wouldn’t live through the actual day.

4. In terms of their relationship with him throughout the rest of their lives, it’s pretty much over in any type of conventional sense. Here are the options, essentially: (a) he goes to jail for life; (b) he goes to jail and is sentenced to death; (c) he goes to an institution. Regardless of outcome, Robert and Arlene Holmes aren’t having a day-to-day relationship with their son anymore. As such, when they ask for “institutionalization,” they’re essentially asking for him not to go to regular jail, potentially because they assume regular jail is a bad place. So .. you could view this as them asking for societal empathy for someone who walked into a movie theater and killed 12 people. That isn’t going to fly with most people.

5. There’s an aspect of all this that feels akin to your mom calling your school when you’re sick, isn’t there? That’s fine when you’re eight. When you’re older and you’ve killed other people — even if it was because of mental illness — that would seem to fly less, no?

Interestingly, FYI, Holmes has one sibling — here’s a bit of information on her.

What do you think about Holmes and the death penalty, and his parents coming forward to talk about it?

Ted Bauer