A Springfield mother told jurors Wednesday that her life and the lives of her family changed forever when her son was gunned down in a Colorado movie theater three years ago.
Matthew McQuinn, a Vandalia-Butler graduate and Springfield native, was shot to death next to his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler.
McQuinn’s mother, Jerri Jackson, said her son’s murder left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. She also lost her job, getting by on Social Security disability payments, which cut her income in half.
“I went back to work and could not handle it,” she said. “I’ve been in counseling for almost three years now. I’m on four medications to help me sleep from the nightmares.”
Prosecutors hope heartbreaking testimony from families will help persuade jurors to sentence James 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.
Jackson described going to the coroner’s office to identify the body of her son.
“I went in, and he was there, and it was my son,” she said softly.
Surrounded by family and friends, she gazed at his body through a window and said goodbye.
“I told him that loved him, that I was proud of him because he saved Samantha’s life, and that we would take care of Samantha’s life,” she said.
Jackson said Yowler, a St. Paris native, “lost her future because they were planning on getting married and having babies. She took a couple of months before she could go out in public” after the shooting, the Denver Post reported.
The Post said Jackson shared how McQuinn’s death also devastated his brother and four step-siblings, stepfather and grandfather, who was close to his grandson. The grandfather jokingly referred to himself as “Mr. Wonderful,” and McQuinn became “Mr. Wonderful Jr.”
The grandfather and grandson used the nicknames when they worked together at a camp, the Post reported. Jackson said her father had his church make an official name tag for him when he greeted people entering the church named “Mr.Wonderful.”
“After Matt was killed, my dad never wore that name tag again,” Jackson said, and when someone asked about it, he would say “No, we buried Mr. Wonderful in July.”
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. told jurors not to be swayed by the emotional nature of the testimony at this stage of the trial, which focuses on the life-shattering impact of Holmes’ crimes.
“Your decision must reflect your individual reasoned moral judgment,” he repeated.
But some jurors clutched tissues and cried during testimony.
The crimes left a profound and continuing impact on the lives of these families, survivors said.
Laughing between her tears, 19-year-old Cierra Cowden took the stand for her family 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.
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.
Caren Teves told jurors she remains grateful for the warm, close relationship she had with her son, Alex Teves, before he was gunned down.
“We spoke or texted every single day. That included I love yous and I appreciate yous,” she said.
“Thank God we had that relationship, because I can look back and have no regrets about that,” she said.
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.
The defense has so far declined to question these relatives. The last round of closing arguments could take place Thursday, and deliberations could begin Friday, attorneys on both sides said.
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