Colorado Theater Killing Suspect Holmes to Plead InsanityJoel Rosenblatt and Jeff Kass
James Holmes, facing a death penalty trial on charges that he murdered 12 people in a shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater in July, will plead not guilty by reason of insanity, his lawyers said.
Holmes’s attorneys, in a filing yesterday in Colorado state court in Centennial, held out the possibility that he will raise constitutional objections to the state’s capital punishment law as the case heads towards trial.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said in an order yesterday that he will consider whether there is “good cause” to let Holmes, 25, enter an insanity plea based on arguments from both defense lawyers and prosecutors at a May 13 hearing.
Given Holmes’s previous claims that the death penalty law is unconstitutional, his lawyers decided “they are going to go ahead and enter the plea with the understanding that they are not giving up the right to challenge the statute at a later time,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said yesterday in a phone interview.
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 in a previous interview.
“In this type of case, the defenses to homicide are either ‘I didn’t do it,’ or ‘I did it but it was justified,’ or ‘I did it but I was insane at the time,’” Steinhauser said yesterday. In light of Holmes’s mental-health history, “I don’t think it’s a surprise that the defense has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity,” she said.
Lisa Pinto, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office, said in an e-mail yesterday that a pretrial order from the court bars prosecutors from commenting on the case.
Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder. In addition to the 12 people killed, 70 were injured in the July 20 shooting spree at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in a Cinemark Holdings Inc. theater in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.
Prosecutors in March 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.
Public defenders representing Holmes 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.
The judge who previously handled the case, William Sylvester, entered a not guilty plea on Holmes’s behalf at his March arraignment. Sylvester also ruled 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.
Sylvester last month reassigned the case to Samour, who scheduled the trial for 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.
There are currently three men on Colorado’s death row, according to the state’s corrections department.
The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).