Colorado Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty in Movie Massacre

James Holmes, accused of opening fire in a Colorado movie theater in July and killing 12 people, should face the death penalty, according to a prosecutor who said the law requires him to be “minister of justice.”

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler informed Judge William Sylvester of the decision at a two-minute hearing yesterday in state court in Centennial, in suburban Denver. He told the judge that members of his office talked to more than 800 victims and family members in the case and that he personally spoke with 60 victims.

“For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” he said.

Holmes, with bushy hair and a long beard, wore a red jumpsuit and glanced in the direction of his parents as he was escorted into the courtroom yesterday.

Prosecutors last week 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.

Sylvester ruled in January that the government established probable cause that Holmes committed the crimes of which he’s accused -- killing 12 people and injuring 70. Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

At a January preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented eyewitnesses and experts in weapons and explosives to describe the July 20 attack and how Holmes allegedly prepared for it. They also played phone calls to emergency services and showed the judge pictures Holmes allegedly took of himself before the shooting spree during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Insanity Defense

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.

Sylvester yesterday reassigned the case to Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who moved the trial back to Feb. 3 from Aug. 5, saying it will last four months. Holmes’s lawyers sought a trial date in the summer or fall of 2014, arguing it will last nine months.

“They are trying to execute our client and we will do what we need to do to save his life,” defense attorney Tamara Brady said during the debate over scheduling. She said the case is “the most important matter this court, this courthouse, will ever hear.”

Offer Rejected

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. Brauchler didn’t specify in the filing what information his office was seeking.

There are currently three men on Colorado’s death row, according to the state’s corrections department.

“Prosecutors in this state have rarely sought the death penalty and have reserved this sentence for the cases they have considered to be the worst of the worst,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said in an e-mail. “Most people would probably agree that this case constitutes the worst of the worst.”

Holmes will probably be the first defendant in a Colorado capital case to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s insanity-defense laws, and such a challenge will delay a trial, Steinhauser said.

Truth Serum

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.

The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).

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