Daily Updates

March 12, 2013

Long-awaited plea is near in Colo theater shooting

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — In the nearly eight months since James Holmes first shuffled into court with vacant eyes and reddish-orange hair, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead to charges from the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting.

There have been plenty of hints, however. As his hair turned more natural-looking and his demeanor more even at court hearings, Holmes’ lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last fall, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.

If, as many expect, they enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf Tuesday, it will clarify the court battle ahead: Was Holmes, 25, legally insane — unable to tell right from wrong — at the time of the shootings?

Pleading insanity could be the only way he can avoid life in prison or execution, given the evidence that has emerged so far, some legal experts said.

Prosecutors laid out a case that Holmes methodically planned the shooting for months, amassing an arsenal and elaborately booby-trapping his apartment to kill anyone who tried to enter. On the night of the attack, they say, he donned a police-style helmet, gas mask and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the seats and then opened fire.

The attack killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

“This is not a whodunit,” criminal defense attorney Dan Recht said in January. He is not involved in the case.

Holmes is charged with 166 counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 assault on moviegoers at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, a Denver suburb.

If a jury agrees he was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. There would be a remote and unlikely chance he could be freed one day if doctors find his sanity has been restored.

The plea carries risk, however. Prosecutors would gain access to Holmes’ mental health records, which could help their case if the evidence of insanity is weak. If Holmes does plead insanity, the proceedings would be prolonged further while he is evaluated by state mental health officials.

“You heard the evidence they have. There is no doubt that he knew what he was doing was wrong, there’s no doubt it was premeditated,” said Tom Teves of Phoenix, whose 24-year-old son, Alex, died in the theater while shielding his girlfriend. “There’s no doubt he did it. Zero. So why are we playing a lot of games?”

Holmes could also plead innocent — not by reason of insanity — which would significantly change the court fight. Prosecutors would not have those medical records, but Holmes could be convicted outright, with a possible life term or death.

No matter how Holmes pleads, he could still be convicted and sentenced to execution or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have 60 days after the plea to say whether they will seek the death penalty.

The hard-fought case has already taken some surprise turns, and Tuesday’s hearing could offer another unforeseen twist, including the remote possibility the two sides, ordered by the judge to not speak publicly about the case, have reached a plea agreement.

The case could also veer in other directions:

— Holmes could be ordered to undergo an evaluation to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial — able to understand what is going on in court and to help his lawyers. If he is found incompetent, the case would come to a halt and he would undergo treatment at the state mental hospital indefinitely, until doctors there say his competency has been restored.

— Holmes could plead guilty, but that appeared unlikely, given his attorneys’ vigorous defense, unless prosecutors offered a plea deal sparing him the death penalty or offering another concession.

— Some unforeseen issue raised by attorneys could delay the case, or Holmes could be absent, as he was at a November court date that corresponds roughly with the time he was taken to Denver Health Medical Center’s psychiatric ward.

Since his arrest outside the theater, his attorneys have aggressively challenged prosecutors, investigators and even the constitutionality of Colorado law nearly every step of the way.

Just this month, they asked the presiding judge, William Sylvester, to rule parts of the state insanity law unconstitutional, arguing it raised too many questions for them to give Holmes effective advice. Sylvester refused.

“This is going to take some time. You know, I remind myself that they got the guy, he’s not going anywhere,” said Tom Sullivan, whose 27-year-old son, Alex, died on his birthday at the movie theater. “I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in right now, but you assume it’s not a pleasant experience what’s going on right now.”

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

    April 20, 2014

  • In Other News, April 20

    April 20, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

    The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

    April 20, 2014

  • Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

    April 20, 2014

  • Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they’re now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.

    April 20, 2014

  • In Colorado, a pot holiday tries to go mainstream

    Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 20, 2014

  • ‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

    Captain America continues to vanquish box office foes, triumphing in ticket sales for the third consecutive week and dominating over megastar Johnny Depp’s new movie.

    April 20, 2014

  • Probe could complicate Rick Perry’s prospects

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent a record 14 years in office vanquishing nearly all who dared confront him: political rivals, moms against mandatory vaccines for sixth graders, a coyote in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    April 20, 2014

  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014