Laughing between her tears, 19-year-old Cierra Cowden took the stand for her family on Wednesday, trying to describe her father's personality and show how difficult his absence has been since he was murdered in a Colorado movie theater.
Gordon Cowden, a 51-year-old father of four, was the oldest person killed that day. He was patient and charming and so kind that he once stopped their car to herd a prairie dog to safety. In the mornings, he would awaken his children with a kind of reveille, singing "dit-dit-dittle-ee," his daughter testified.
"I used to dread that sound but I'd like to hear it now," she said.
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Cierra and her sister Brooke were at his side during the midnight Batman movie premiere when James Holmes opened fire. Like other relatives of the 12 people killed, she told jurors how the July 2012 attack upended their lives, leaving gaping holes in family photos and unfilled seats at Christmas dinner tables.
"I just feel like my family's broken," she said.
Prosecutors hope this heartbreaking testimony will help persuade jurors to sentence Holmes, now 27, to lethal injection. Death sentences in Colorado must be unanimous, so even one juror's objection to capital punishment will mean life without parole.
Jurors will begin deliberating the sentence Thursday or Friday, after prosecutors and defense attorneys make their last round of closing arguments.
Holmes was convicted of murdering 12 people and trying to murder 70 others three years ago inside a midnight Batman movie in suburban Denver. Jurors rejected his insanity plea.
The crimes left a profound and continuing impact on the lives of these families, survivors said. Relatives of the dozen who lost their lives recounted the shattering emotional trauma they have suffered since then.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. repeatedly warned jurors not to be swayed by emotions. "Your decision must reflect your individual reasoned moral judgment," he said.
But the family stories often left jurors in tears. Read each family's testimonial from the trial here.
The massacre robbed Ashley Moser of her 6-year-old daughter, her unborn child and even her identity.
"I don't know who I am anymore, 'cause I was a mom when I was 18, and that's all I knew how to be," Moser told jurors Wednesday.
She spoke slowly and tearfully from the wheelchair she has used since James Holmes' bullets left her paralyzed. Her brief testimony was the last in a two-day litany of grief and loss as prosecutors tried to persuade jurors that death, not life without parole, is the appropriate punishment.
The youngest victim, Veronica, was shot four times.
Her mother struggled to explain what she missed most about her.
"Everything. Her smile, her laugh, the way she was my little silly-billy ... always trying to make people happy," Moser said.
Moser had an ultrasound scan hours before she and Veronica went to the theater with friends. Veronica was excited about becoming a big sister, Moser said, though she might not have fully grasped what that meant.
Now 28, Moser said she suffers from depression and anxiety so severe that she sometimes didn't leave the house.
Mary Theresa 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 for information after 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 approached with an image of her drivers' license, confirming her death. "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 described repeatedly calling their missing relatives cellphones that night, desperately hoping to find them alive. Police officers testified earlier that abandoned cellphones rang inside the theater for hours after the shootings.
The defense has so far declined to question these relatives.
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.
After a gunman attacked a movie theater audience in Tennessee and was killed by a SWAT team on Wednesday, Samour advised jurors to avoid all news until the Colorado trial is over. He didn't mention the Tennessee incident, but he told jurors to ignore reports of any incidents similar to the Colorado shootings.
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.
Associated Press Writer Dan Elliott contributed from Denver.