The Aurora Theater Shooting trial finally came to a close on Wednesday when Judge Carlos Samour Jr. sentenced convicted killer James Holmes to 12 consecutive life sentences, and another 3,318 years in prison for good measure. Following the sentencing, Samour put an exclamation point on the trial when he said, “Get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.”
Privately, at least, life should essentially return to normal for Judge Samour and the countless others who have invested much of the last few years on this case. But for Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who is being courted by Republicans to run for U.S. Senate in 2016, he may just be exchanging one spotlight for another.
In an interview with the Colorado Independent, Brauchler acknowledged that he feels the pressure to make a decision on his political future by Labor Day – less than two weeks away. Now that the sentencing is complete, it’s a good time to look at the political ramifications of the Aurora Theater Shooting Trial for Brauchler — and by extension, Colorado Republicans in general.
We decided to do this Rickey Henderson-style by having a Q&A conversation with ourselves, so let’s get to it after the jump…
Q: Politically-speaking, was Brauchler helped or hindered by the outcome of the Aurora Shooting Trial?
A: There’s no ignoring the bottom line here: Brauchler sought the death penalty, and he didn’t get it. That’s a loss in anyone’s book, and it’s intellectually dishonest to argue otherwise. Soon after the Aurora jury declined to recommend the death penalty for James Holmes, we wrote in this space that Brauchler was “damaged goods” politically. No amount of sugarcoating will change the fact that Brauchler failed to reach his own standard for success in this trial.
Brauchler has been making the rounds on the talk-radio circuit, trying to convince whoever will listen that most of the members of the jury supported the death penalty, but it’s a weak argument; nobody wants to hear about how many minutes the Denver Broncos held the lead in a game before ultimately losing. If you have to explain why you failed to achieve your desired outcome, it’s a loss. Period.
Brauchler’s argument also fails because it is well known that he could have accepted a plea agreement years ago that would have prevented the public spectacle of a trial with the same outcome – life in prison for James Holmes. On the same day that the jury declined to pursue the death penalty, 9NEWS devoted an entire story on the Tweets of Jordan Ghawi, the brother of Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi. Remember, we’re not talking about political commentators questioning Brauchler’s “political ambition” – these are victims and family members reaching their own conclusion.
This trial should have never happened. Defense offered a plea to life in prison, but political ambition trumped reason.
— Jordan Ghawi (@JordanGhawi) August 7, 2015
Q: Okay, but what about the trial in general? Doesn’t Brauchler benefit politically because of all the media attention on the trial?
A: Yes and no. Brauchler is certainly a more recognizable name today than he was two years ago, but not all press is good press, and Brauchler made some high-profile mistakes that will dog him for the rest of his political career. In early June, Brauchler was publicly rebuked by Judge Samour for Tweeting during the trial.
“If you’re bored, and don’t want to pay attention to the proceedings, then you’re welcome to leave,” scolded Samour.
Brauchler apologized, but not before offering a lame excuse that he thought he was texting someone rather than Tweeting; it doesn’t make your apology sound better to add that you don’t know how to use your cell phone. Of more significance is the fact that Brauchler’s courtroom Tweet was marked as an official court exhibit and led directly to the dismissal of three jurors for discussing media coverage of the trial (which also led to this quote from a juror’s husband that will no doubt resurface in Brauchler’s political future: “That Idiot’s Tweeting.”) A formal complaint was later filed with the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel alleging that Brauchler violated “professional conduct rules” by Tweeting during the trial.
Three jurors were replaced by alternates in the aftermath of Brauchler’s courtroom Tweeting, but to what extent did that influence the outcome of the trial? We may get the answer to that question soon, as jurors begin granting interviews to local and national media outlets.
None of this will be helpful for Brauchler’s political future…and that’s without noting that Brauchler may have been “trial Tweeting” on previous occasions. Check out this Tweet from Larry Ryckman of the Denver Post back on May 8 (Day 9 of the trial):
Q: George Brauchler is being courted by Republicans to run for Senate in 2016, but he’s always had his eye on a bid for Governor in 2018. What should he do next?
A: It is no secret that Brauchler has long had his eye on running for Governor, an idea that first surfaced in 2014. It would have been premature for Brauchler to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper last year, but it makes a lot more sense when Hick is term-limited in 2018.
If Brauchler takes a pass on running for Senate in 2016, he should have little trouble winning re-election as Arapahoe County District Attorney instead. Running for re-election in 2016 before making the jump to higher office seems to make more sense than betting your entire career on a difficult Senate challenge. This is particularly true when you put the 2016 race in historical perspective: Only once in the last 40 years have incumbent senators from the same state and same political party lost re-election in consecutive election cycles.
Those are not good odds.
Remember, a big part of the reason that Brauchler is being courted to run for U.S. Senate is because Republicans don’t have anybody else to ask. The plan was not to wait for Brauchler to finish with the Aurora Trial because he is the GOP’s overwhelming preference; had things gone according to plan, Republicans would have already had a top candidate running for Senate by now.
Should Brauchler wait to seek the Republican nomination for Governor in 2018, he would likely face a tough Republican Primary battle with State Treasurer Walker Stapleton. But is that a more daunting challenge than trying to unseat a sitting U.S. Senator in a Presidential election year?
Which race would you choose?