Judge accepts insanity plea in Colo. shooting case
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – A judge accepted James Holmes' long-awaited
plea of not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday and ordered him to
undergo a mental evaluation – an examination that could be a decisive
factor in whether the Colorado theater shooting suspect is convicted and
sentenced to die.
The judge also granted prosecutors access to a
hotly contested notebook that Holmes sent to a psychiatrist shortly
before the July 20 rampage, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured in a
bloody, bullet-riddled movie theater in suburban Denver.
Taken together, the three developments marked a
major step forward in the 10-month-old case, which at times has inched
along through thickets of legal arguments or veered off on tangents.
Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and
attempted murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
He will now be examined by the Colorado Mental
Health Institute in Pueblo, but it's not certain when the evaluation
will begin or how long it will take. Hospital officials have said that
before they meet with Holmes, they want to review evidence in the case,
which prosecutors said totals nearly 40,000 pages.
Judge Carlos Samour Jr. set a tentative date of
Aug. 2 for the exam to be complete but said he would push that back if
hospital officials request more time. Samour indicated he still hopes to
begin Holmes' trial in February.
Holmes, 25, shuffled into court with his wrists and
ankles shackled, wearing a long, bushy beard and dark, curly hair that
was slicked back.
Samour read Holmes a five-page list of consequences
of the insanity plea and asked if he had any questions.
“No,” Holmes answered in a clear, firm voice. It
was only the second time since his arrest that he has spoken in court,
other than occasional whispered exchanges with his attorneys.
The findings of the mental evaluation will become
evidence in Homes' trial, but they are not the final word on whether he
was legally insane at the time of the shootings. The jurors will
If their verdict is not guilty by reason of
insanity, Holmes would be committed to the Mental Health Institute
indefinitely. He could theoretically be released one day if doctors
determine his sanity has been restored, but that is considered unlikely.
If their verdict is guilty, jurors would then
decide whether Holmes will be executed or spend the rest of his life in
prison without the possibility of parole.
Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to
distinguish right from wrong caused by a diseased or defective mind.
Marcus Weaver, who was wounded and lost his friend
Rebecca Wingo in the shooting, doesn't believe Holmes is insane but is
grateful the case is moving forward.
“As we've seen evidence and seen the case unfold,
it's become more evident that Mr. Holmes did what he did, and it had
nothing to do with his mental state,” he said.
The insanity plea is widely seen as Holmes' best
chance of avoiding execution, but his lawyers delayed it for weeks,
saying Colorado's laws on the insanity plea and the death penalty could
work in combination to violate his constitutional rights.
The judge overruled their objections last week, but
on Tuesday he conceded one point: Neither Holmes nor his lawyers had to
sign a statement or say in court that they understood the five-page
list of consequences of the insanity plea.
Samour originally planned to require Holmes and the
defense to acknowledge they understood those consequences before he
accepted the plea. But Samour said Tuesday he had determined that wasn't
required by law.
Holmes needed Samour's approval to enter the
insanity plea because a judge had entered a standard not guilty plea on
Holmes' behalf in March.
Prosecutors first sought access to the notebook
when its existence was made public days after the shooting. Holmes had
mailed it to Dr. Lynn Fenton, a University of Colorado, Denver
psychiatrist who had treated Holmes. Holmes had been a graduate student
in neuroscience at the university.
The notebook's contents have never been officially
made public, but media reports have said it contains drawings depicting
The defense argued the notebook was protected by
doctor-patient privilege. But Samour ruled Tuesday that under Colorado
law, Holmes waived that privilege when he entered the insanity plea.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that in addition to
reviewing the contents of the notebook, they would ask police to do
unspecified “additional processing” of it.
Court officials also released nearly 100 pretrial
motions Tuesday, most of them from the defense.
One signaled that Holmes will seek a change of
venue because of pretrial publicity. Others challenged the admissibility
of ballistics, handwriting and mountains of other evidence and demanded
that prosecutors hand over as many as 2,000 pieces of physical
Holmes' lawyers appear to be trying to humanize
their client, who made his first court appearances with a mop of dyed
orange hair. They filed motions asking that he be allowed to appear
before jurors in civilian clothes, instead of a jail uniform, and
without shackles. They also asked that authorities ratchet back
courthouse security, including armed guards on the roof.
Defense lawyers want Holmes' parents to be allowed
to witness the entire trial in support of their son and not be
sequestered like other possible witnesses.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi
contributed to this report.
Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP
Copyright 2013 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.