DENVER - The parents of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes begged Friday for his life to be spared through a plea bargain - a move that rekindled the long-running, emotional debate about whether the horrific details of the mass killing should be played out at his upcoming trial.

The statement released by Robert and Arlene Holmes emphasized a key legal issue in the tortured history of the case - James Holmes' mental state when he killed 12 people and injured 70 others, and whether he should die if convicted of the crime.

"He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness," the parents wrote in just their second public comments since the 2012 attack. "We have always loved him, and we do not want him to be executed."

Prosecutors previously rejected at least one proposed plea deal made by attorneys for Holmes, criticizing the lawyers for publicizing the offer and calling it a ploy meant to draw the public and the judge into what should be private plea negotiations.

They said the defense proposal could not be considered genuine because the defense repeatedly refused to give them information needed to evaluate it. No details were provided on the information but attorneys previously argued in court about access to details concerning Holmes' mental health.

Jury selection is set to begin Jan. 20. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense attorneys don't deny he was the shooter but say he was having a psychotic episode.

The parents' comments incensed some survivors of the attack and relatives of those killed.

"To give a person who committed such a calculated, horrific crime a life sentence, to me that's like giving him a slap on the wrist," said Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend, Rebecca Wingo, died in the attack.

But the prospect of a long court battle troubled Pierce O'Farrill, who was shot three times. He said he would welcome an agreement that imprisons Holmes for life and did not see how a possible death penalty would "bring peace."