Friends of Aurora shooting victims applauded prosecutors' decision today to seek the death penalty for James Holmes, with one friend saying he wanted to be in the room if Holmes is executed.
"I don't know if it's painful. I want him dead. I just want to be there in the room when he dies," Bryan Beard said outside the Colorado courthouse. "He took one of my friends from this Earth. Death equals death."
Beard's close friend Alex Sullivan was one of the 12 people killed in the shooting on July 20 last year. It was Sullivan's 27th birthday.
Prosecutors from the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office said at a hearing today in Aurora, Colo., that they will seek execution for Holmes if he is convicted.
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"For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death," District Attorney George Brauchler said in court.
A couple of victims' relatives cried. Holmes' parents were also in court. He looked at them when he came in. After the announcement, Holmes' father nodded his head and put his arm around his wife.
Brauchler said his office has reached out to 800 victims and that he had personally spoken with relatives of 60 victims who died and were injured. Brauchler said he didn't speak to anyone about the decision.
"They are trying to execute our client and we will do what we need to do to save his life," public defender Tammy Brady said in a voice shaking with anger. "We are asking the court not to rush this."
Holmes was swiveling back and forth in his chair during the discussion of the trial date.
Judge Carlos Samour, the case's new judge, set the trial date for Feb. 3, 2014, but the date could change if the defense finds it is not ready early next year.
"I want to be aggressive in moving this case along, and at the same time I want to make sure it's done right," Samour said.
The decision follows several days of wrangling between the defense and prosecution over Holmes' offer to plead guilty in a bid to avoid the death penalty.
Despite the announcement, experts predict a long road ahead for Holmes, 25, and the case.
"When the government tries to kill one of its citizens, you do everything you can to keep it from happening so I expect the road to trial will be a long process," former head of the Colorado public defender's office David Kaplan told ABC News today.
"Hopefully the prosecution will keep an open mind to bring closure that will be of benefit to everyone," he said.
Holmes' defense attorneys said on Wednesday that he was willing to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison in order to avoid death row. But prosecutors rejected the offer and criticized the defense for what prosecutors called a "calculated" move for attention.
"The circumstances surrounding the filing of the Notice indicate that it was filed for the intended purpose of generating the predictable pretrial publicity," prosecutors wrote in their response to the defense's filing.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding at least 58 when gunfire erupted in an Aurora theater last July during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Holmes' physical appearance has evolved over his time in prison, visible only in rare court appearances. He has gone from wild, Joker-like orange and red hair in his first appearance to his most recent look of brown hair and a shaggy beard. He has sometimes looked bug-eyed and confused and other times so despondent and drowsy that people questioned whether he had been drugged.
Family members are divided on whether Holmes should get death, according to investigative sources. Some are philosophically opposed to the death penalty, others support it and still another group wants death for Holmes, but they don't want to endure a trial.