Aug 5, 3:22 AM EDT

Relatives of Colorado theater shooting victims to testify


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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- Mary Theresa Hoover moved out of the home where her son grew up because it was too hard to live there without him. Sandy Phillips and her husband no longer celebrate Thanksgiving because it falls so near her daughter's Nov. 27 birthday.

And Amanda Medek can't bear to watch movies in a theater since her little sister was shot to death at a midnight premiere of a Batman film.

They and other relatives of the 12 people killed in a Colorado movie theater tearfully told jurors how the July 2012 shooting upended their lives, leaving gaping holes in family photos and unfilled seats at Christmas dinner tables.

More family members will take the stand Wednesday, as prosecutors make their final push to have James Holmes sentenced to death for murdering 12 people and wounding or injuring 70 others in the crowded auditorium.

"I have PTSD, my brain is mush, I can't retain things like I used to, I cry every day still, probably always will," Phillips said as she spoke about the death of her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, 24, an aspiring sports broadcaster who swapped loving text messages with her mother just before she was killed. She and her husband, Lonnie, cling to each other for support now but "we don't plan on a future anymore," Phillips said.

Prosecutors hope such heartbreaking testimony about the far-reaching impact of the shooting on families will convince jurors to sentence Holmes, now 27, to lethal injection. But death sentences in Colorado must be unanimous. Even one juror's objection to capital punishment means a sentence of life in prison without parole for Holmes.

Defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked jurors not to "answer death with death," insisting that the crimes were caused by the psychotic breakdown of a mentally ill young man. She said life without parole is the morally appropriate response.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. told jurors not to be swayed by the emotional nature of the highly charged testimony. "Your decision must reflect your individual reasoned moral judgment," he repeated.

But some jurors clutched tissues and cried during Tuesday's testimony.

Hoover described her son, 18-year-old A.J. Boik, as a "ball of happiness" who planned to go to art school and had just graduated from the same high school where she frantically raced in search of answers as soon as she learned of the shooting.

A.J.'s brother is grieving quietly, she said.

"I am now a single mother of one child," she said. "I have lost half of what I was put on this Earth to do. My life is basically half of what it was."

Medek recalled frantically searching hospitals for her little sister Micayla before officers appeared at her parent's home with a picture of her. "All I remember is my knees buckling and slamming into the concrete floor," she said.

Micayla was "filled with love," she said. "Kind, sweet, innocent. She was a kid. She was just about to be a college kid. She was young. She was never in love. She never got to have a family."

Some of the victims' relatives described repeatedly calling their missing loved ones' cellphones the night of the shooting, desperately hoping to hear they were alive. That mirrored the earlier testimony of police officers, who said abandoned cellphones rang inside the theater for hours after the shootings.

The defense declined to question any relatives Tuesday.

The last round of closing arguments could take place Thursday, and deliberations could begin Friday, attorneys on both sides said.

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