Mother of Colorado theater shooting survivor describes daughter's prayers for James Holmes

by Sara Horn, |
Divided Colorado jury results in life sentence for convicted movie theater shooter. | SCREENSHOT/REUTERS

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Christian Examiner) - When Bonnie Kate Zoghbi took the stand to testify against James Holmes, the man who shot her and dozens of others in a Colorado movie theater, she was prepared to share what had happened to her. What she wasn't prepared for was seeing his face, just 12 feet away from her, smirking. 

Zoghbi was shot in the leg by Holmes during the attack, and testified at his trial in July about the chronic and debilitating pain she's experienced the last three years. But her mother, Kathleen Pourciau, told the Christian Examiner that the lack of remorse Holmes showed was disappointing. 

Bonnie Kate Pourciau Zoghbi on her wedding day in May 2014, with her mother Kathleen Pourciau. | SUBMITTED PHOTO/ Kathleen Pourciau

Pourciau, who lives in Baton Rouge, said her daughter was "very distressed" leading up to the trial before she testified, but was prepared when she took the stand.

At one point, however, while Zoghbi was on the stand, the prosecution and defense teams had to speak with the judge about what evidence could be shown. Pourciau said her daughter sat there alone facing Holmes.

"There was nothing happening in the courtroom at that moment," Pourciau said. "[Holmes] hadn't looked at a single victim or at the evidence that was displayed, [but at that moment he] stared at Bonnie Kate. He had a smirk on his face and it was so distressing for her."

It was in that moment Pourciau recalls that her daughter said she, "just started praying for him, and it helped her gain her composure."

The two Christian women hoped the now-convicted murderer would respond to "grace and mercy," but it was obvious that was not going to happen, Pourciau said.

Wearing a trademark wreath of flowers around her head, Zoghbi bravely continued with her testimony and when asked by the prosecution what she was thinking in the moments after she was shot, she admitted it sounded strange, but she told them she "felt peace.

"I felt peace. I've never felt the amount of peace in that moment when I thought I wasn't going to make it and I thought I wasn't going to live. I just felt God wrapped me up and I wasn't scared."

I've never felt the amount of peace in that moment when I thought I wasn't going to make it and I thought I wasn't going to live. I just felt God wrapped me up and I wasn't scared.

While mother and daughter awaited the trial outcome, Porciau said they prayed God's mercy for Holmes and "that he would know what it is to be forgiven," despite his crimes.

"We wish that for him -- so much," Porciau said. 

Bonnie Kate has cried about whether Holmes will ever know what it's like to be forgiven -- and when she thinks about it, it's not in a way that disregards that he should be held accountable for his actions -- they believe he should -- but in a way that offers hope.

"It's not simple... I wish he would find forgiveness, but I understand the reason for the death penalty - not out of vengeance. I think what he will face beyond this life is far worse," Holmes said.


Three years after entering an Aurora movie theater with tear gas canisters, guns and ammunition during a midnight movie premiere where he killed 12 people and wounded 70, Holmes was found guilty at the end of July of all 165 counts of murder and attempted murder, after an emotionally difficult 10-week trial for the victims families. 

Last week, the jury sentenced James Holmes to life in prison with no chance of parole, sparing him the death penalty but surprising many in the courtroom with their decision. The jury had previously agreed Holmes was eligible for the death penalty, refuting the defense's argument Holmes was mentally ill and unaware of his actions at the time of the attack.

The New York Times reported that Holmes showed little emotion as his sentence was read, even as his mother collapsed into her husband's arms and some family members of the victims cried quietly and a police officer, one of the many first responders to the attack, also sobbed.

Colorado law requires a unanimous decision for a death sentence, a decision the jury was unable to deliver in any of the counts against Holmes. One juror, identified only as Juror 17, spoke after court on Friday and said one juror had opposed the death penalty, nine were in favor of it, and two had been unsure.

"There was nothing further to discuss at that point," Juror 17 told the NYT. "It only takes one."

Both the prosecution and defense criticized the other side after the jury's decision. Holmes' defense team accused prosecutors of dragging the families through an unnecessary three-year-long process pursuing a capital trial and refusing their initial offer of life in prison. District Attorney George Brauchler apologized to the families for the trial's conclusion and blamed the defense for refusing his request to have Holmes examined by an independent mental health expert nor turning over materials such as Holmes' medical records or a spiral notebook where he recorded homicidal fantasies.


The response among families of the victims was mixed. Some were relieved the trial was over, compared to the years of appeals a death sentence would have brought, while others were angry or disappointed, and many recognized that no matter the outcome, the decision would not bring their loved ones back.

Pourciau told the Christian Examiner she also thinks about Holmes' mother, who she has communicated with.

"I would normally say I believe in the death penalty," Porciau admitted. "It makes sense to pay the consequences for his actions, but at the same time, I grieve for his mom and his dad. That's the first thing [I thought about, his parents,] when I heard he was guilty on all counts.

"Bonnie Kate and I had the same reaction. We just cried. I thought I'd be happy, that justice has been done, but it's such a tragedy this man's life has been twisted by such evil desires."