Accused Movie Shooter Holmes to Learn of Death Penalty Decision
By Jeff Kass & Joel Rosenblatt - Apr 1, 2013 12:00 AM ET
James Holmes, accused of opening fire in a Colorado movie theater in July and killing 12 people, is set to find out whether prosecutors will seek his execution.
Judge William Sylvester in state court in Centennial, in suburban Denver, ordered lawyers for the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office to disclose their decision at a hearing scheduled for today. Prosecutors said last week that they had rejected an offer from Holmes to plead guilty and spend his life in prison without any chance of parole in exchange for sparing him from the death penalty.
“The stakes from both sides are extremely high, and I think we’re dealing with both prosecutors and defense lawyers who believe in the justness of their side, and are fighting in a way that they each believe is the right way to deal with a case of this magnitude,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said in a phone interview.
Steinhauser said prosecutors will probably seek the death penalty, which in Colorado has been reserved for the “worst of the worst.” Public defenders representing Holmes are “doing everything they can to save their client’s life,” she said.
Sylvester entered a not guilty plea at Holmes’s arraignment on March 12 because Daniel King of the Colorado public defender’s office told the judge that Holmes wasn’t ready to plead. Previously, Holmes’s lawyers said they were considering an insanity plea. The judge has set Aug. 5 for the start of a trial expected to last four weeks.
If prosecutors ask for the death penalty Holmes may become the first defendant in a capital-punishment case to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s insanity-defense laws.
Prosecutors rejected Holmes’s offer to plead guilty because, they said in a court filing, his attorneys have “steadfastly and repeatedly” refused to provide information required to consider the offer. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler didn’t specify in the filing what information his office was seeking.
Steinhauser said that if prosecutors seek the death penalty, the trial probably would be delayed by defense challenges to some aspects of Colorado law.
Public defenders have already objected to a provision blocking Holmes from calling witnesses to present evidence about his mental condition if he doesn’t cooperate with court- appointed psychiatrists. Under Colorado law, psychiatrists are permitted to require Holmes to submit to interviews under the influence of a so-called truth serum, according to Steinhauser.
Sylvester ruled March 11 that prosecutors may require Holmes to submit to a “narcoanalytic interview” under the influence of “medically appropriate” drugs. Such drugs can enable a person to recall something they’re having difficulty remembering, Steinhauser said.
Holmes’s lawyers have questioned whether his refusal to take the drugs would amount to non-cooperation.
Michael Knight, a spokesman for the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office, hadn’t responded to a call seeking comment on today’s hearing.
Sylvester ruled in January that the government established probable cause that Holmes committed the crimes of which he’s accused. Holmes, who studied neuroscience at theUniversity of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.
The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).
To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Kass in state court in Centennial, Colorado, firstname.lastname@example.org; Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.