Colorado Theater Shooter Holmes’s Insanity Plea Accepted

James Holmes, facing capital murder charges over a movie theater shooting rampage that killed 12 people, was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

A bearded Holmes entered the hearing today in state court in Centennial, Colorado, in a red jailhouse jumpsuit with his shaggy hair slicked back. At least eight Arapahoe County deputies were in the courtroom for security.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. spent most of the morning slowly reading aloud to Holmes an advisement about what his plea means. Holmes, his hands shackled, looked down at the document as one of his attorneys, Daniel King, turned the pages to help Holmes follow along.

“Do you have any questions?” Samour asked Holmes, when he finished reading.

“No,” Holmes said.

“I find Mr. Holmes understands the consequences of a not guilty by reason of insanity plea,” Samour said. “I watched Mr. Holmes as I read this. He appeared to follow along. I believe he has intelligently entered a plea. The court accepts the not guilty by reason of insanity plea.”

Midnight Screening

Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder. In addition to those killed, 70 people were injured in the July 20 shooting spree at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Cinemark Holdings Inc.’s Century Aurora 16 theater in the Denver suburb.

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.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said in April that his office will pursue the death penalty against Holmes. The judge on May 29 rejected Holmes’s constitutional challenges to provisions of Colorado’s death penalty and insanity-defense laws.

Defense lawyers argued at a May 13 hearing that Holmes had “good cause” to change his not guilty plea, which a judge entered for him in March, to not guilty by reason of insanity. Samour said at that hearing that although he agreed “good cause has been established,” he might not allow the insanity plea.

New Evidence

New evidence is one factor determining what constitutes good cause to change a plea after an arraignment, and the decision must be weighed “liberally and in favor of the accused,” Samour said at the hearing.

King, the defense attorney, told Samour on May 13, without specifying a diagnosis, that “qualified professionals” concluded Holmes wasn’t sane at the time of the shooting.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Jacob Edson told the judge at that hearing that he wanted to know exactly when, after Holmes’s March 12 arraignment, the defense learned new information about the defendant’s sanity. Edson argued that in order to change the plea, Holmes’s lawyers had to show what happened between his arraignment and the May 13 hearing.

Public defenders representing Holmes objected on due process grounds to a provision of Colorado law blocking Holmes from calling witnesses at any sentencing hearing to present evidence about his mental condition unless he cooperates with court-appointed psychiatrists.

Truth Serum

Under state law, psychiatrists can require Holmes to submit to interviews under the influence of a drug popularly known as truth serum, according to Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice.

The judge who previously handled the case, William Sylvester, ruled that prosecutors may require Holmes to submit to a “narcoanalytic interview” under the influence of “medically appropriate” drugs. Such drugs can enable people to recall something they’re having difficulty remembering.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed an order May 22 granting one of three men on Colorado’s death row a “temporary reprieve” from his sentence on grounds that under Colorado’s capital sentencing system, “death is not handed down fairly,” according to a statement from his office. The reprieve for convicted murderer Nathan J. Dunlap remains in effect until it’s modified or rescinded by another order from the governor, Hickenlooper said in the statement.

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

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