Aurora theater trial jury selection begins Tuesday

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Colo. theater shooting trial set to begin: how it compares with Tsarnaev case.

Just weeks after the start of the Boston Marathon bombing trial, another high-profile trial is set to begin Tuesday, as jury selection begins in Denver for the Aurora, Colo., massacre.

DENVER (AP) – An Associated Press review shows 25 Coloradans have been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity since 1998, and more than half of them are free to live away from the state hospital – some with limited or no supervision.DENVER (AP) — One of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history will be replayed in a Colorado courtroom — but only after an unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 people is winnowed to a handful to decide whether James Holmes was insane when he opened fire in a suburban movie theater.Had their final date taken them to different seats, at another cinema, on some other warm summer night, Jansen Young and Jon Blunk might be happily celebrating Blunk’s 29th birthday in Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday.

The outcome of the Aurora movie theater shooting trial may very well be decided in the next few months, before any evidence is offered or any witness testifies. Such is the significance that attorneys place on jury selection, which begins Tuesday in the theater shooting case when the first wave of 9,000 summoned jurors shows up at the Arapahoe County courthouse. His survival has sparked an emotionally charged debate in which his parents have begged for a plea deal that would save his life, while many survivors and family members of victims have demanded that he stand trial and face the death penalty if convicted.

It’s even harder to lose someone you love in a split moment, when you didn’t think they were going to just go right then.” She is taking the coincidence of the calendar as a message of solidarity. “Jon wants this to be over with,” she said. It will have been 914 days since authorities say Holmes burst into a packed suburban movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora, tossed a tear gas canister into the crowd and opened fire.

James Holmes’s lawyers admit that he was the gunman in body armour who killed Blunk and 11 other people, wounded 70 more, and terrorised dozens who scrambled out of the exits, about half an hour into the midnight premiere of the Batman film at Aurora’s Century 16 cinema, on 20 July 2012. Now, Brauchler is overseeing the closely watched prosecution of accused Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, and his hands-on style and speculation about his political ambitions have only intensified the spotlight on his office. Add to those challenges the publicity surrounding the case, which could cause some potential jurors to lie during jury selection to avoid serving and others to lie in the hopes of being picked. “When the cases are this high profile, it really changes the dynamics quite a bit,” said Karen Fleming-Ginn, a California-based trial consultant who specializes in advising lawyers how to select juries. In July 2013, his lawyers admitted in pretrial court filings that their client was the shooter but contended he had been “in the throes of a psychotic episode.” Last month, his parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, broke their silence to issue a statement expressing sympathy with the victims but also saying their son “is not a monster.” They pleaded for his life to be spared: “He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.” The case is being closely watched for its legal implications. Holmes’s case has already been beset by multiple delays, pre-trial disputes, an avalanche of legal paperwork, and the appointment of a replacement judge.

Potential jurors arriving at the courthouse Tuesday and in the following days will fill out a 75-question survey, which Fleming-Ginn said “is going to weed out a lot of jurors” right away. Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. THE VICTIMS: The dead included a 6-year-old girl, two active-duty servicemen, a single mom, an aspiring broadcaster who survived a mall shooting in Toronto and a 27-year-old celebrating his birthday and wedding anniversary.

Jurors who are called back for more detailed questions will face deep scrutiny of their views on capital punishment, the criminal justice system and mental illness. The initial days of juror selection in the trial of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have provided a glimpse of just how difficult impaneling an impartial jury for such heinous and high-profile crimes can be. Rather, the challenge is to find people who can honestly set aside what they’ve heard about it and decide a verdict based only on what’s presented in court. Jessica Brylo, a trial consultant in Denver, said attorneys on both sides may have organized focus groups to help them identify ways to ferret out hidden bias.

Several survivors of Holmes’s shooting say they agree with Brauchler, having set aside abstract principles for the man who blighted their lives in a few terrifying minutes. “I’m an anti-death penalty person, philosophically,” said Marcus Weaver, 44, who was shot twice in his right shoulder by Holmes, and saw his friend Rebecca Wingo killed. “But in this case – when you walk into a theatre in ballistic gear and open fire on the audience – there is no other penalty warranted.” “It’s hard for me to say that I think this man deserves to die,” said Young. “I don’t think anyone deserves to lose a life, even though he did something so terrible. When he was done, he joined the Army Reserves and took a job in the neighboring Jefferson County district attorney’s office, where he helped secure prison time for two men involved in selling weapons to the Columbine High School shooters. The actual questioning of individual jurors is not expected to begin until mid-February, with the final 12 jurors and 12 alternatives not seated until May, according to court administrators. Now a lieutenant colonel, the square-jawed prosecutor has had his career interrupted by two tours of active duty, including one that sent him to Iraq shortly after he prosecuted a Fort Carson solider who shot a Taliban leader to death as he lay in an Afghan jail cell. When questioning a juror, the lawyers may ask broad demographical questions about what kind of television shows the juror watches or what kind of car the juror owns.

He deserves justice.” If Holmes is convicted, the jury will be asked to decide in a second phase of the trial whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison. While he could theoretically secure release one day by persuading authorities that he no longer poses a threat to himself or others, psychiatrists are unlikely to sign off on freeing such a mass killer. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 suspended the death sentence of a man Brauchler’s predecessors prosecuted for killing four people at a restaurant in 1993. On the front steps of the state capitol, Brauchler laced into the Democratic governor’s decision. “Everyone was just blown away by how well Brauchler did at being the voice of opposition,” said Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the state Republican party. “That created a real buzz among Republicans.” Brauchler concluded it was impossible to challenge Hickenlooper with the Holmes case looming.

Amid outrage generated by the not guilty due to insanity verdict given in 1982 to John Hinckley Jr for attempting to assassinate President Reagan, most US states changed their laws to force such defendants to prove that they were insane. George Brauchler refused, proclaiming that, for Holmes, “justice is death.” In Colorado, someone who is insane cannot be put to death, and it is up to the prosecution to convince a jury that the defendant was sane at the moment of the crime. To stop them, Holmes’s lawyers will likely to point to a warning given to police by a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Denver, who said that Holmes had threatened her in text messages and emails, and made homicidal statements.

Over more than two years, the prosecution has painted Holmes as a man whose life was unraveling, so he launched a methodical plan to kill as many people as possible, amassing body armor, weapons, explosives and ammunition in the months prior to the shootings. “It’s been absolutely brutal for the families. Holmes had seen two other mental health professionals and sent a text message to a classmate asking about manic dysphoria, a mental condition involving periods of mania and depression.

We would have liked to see this over a long, long time ago,” said Sandy Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist, was killed in the massacre. Phillips, who lives in San Antonio, will not attend jury selection Tuesday and has not set foot in the courtroom over the last 2 1/2 years. “I am so afraid of my emotions of being in the same room with such evil,” she said.

However, Brauchler bristles at suggestions that he’s a tough-on-crime caricature and points to other cases that show his focus is on justice, not punishment. He researched online and carried out reconnaissance at the cinema beforehand, they say, and set explosive booby traps at his home in anticipation of a raid by authorities after the massacre. He also spent several months steadily accumulating an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock pistol from different gun shops, and ammunition from an internet retailer. Holmes may struggle to overcome a basic scepticism typically displayed among jurors asked to accept an insanity plea as an explanation for serious crimes, according to people with experience of its use in Colorado.

Samour will tell them they may not discuss the case with anyone, do any independent research on it, or watch, read or listen to news reports about it. Every single evening when I cuddle up with my husband and I am falling asleep, you think of the part of your life that is missing and always will be.” Dave Hoover, whose 18-year-old nephew, A.J. Iris Eytan, an attorney in Denver who specialises in representing mentally ill defendants, said that despite Holmes being a “classic case of insanity”, the jury may be unmoved. “There is such a stigma about this defence that the cards are always against the defendant no matter what,” said Eytan. “‘Someone is trying to get off by claiming they are crazy’ – that’s what people think. When Brauchler ran for district attorney, Deasy asked him about the mammoth trial he would inherit.”He had the exact right response and that was, ‘This thing is so big I don’t even know how to put my arms around it,'” Deasy said. “He’s wrestled with how to handle this case for a long time because, how could he not?” “He talks about everything but politics,” Zvonek said. “At the end of this (Holmes case), if all goes very well for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t run for anything.” Among other evidence, photographs showing that Holmes’s car had a skull-shaped gearstick – which his lawyers wanted barred – have also been permitted.

Most important and controversial, however, may be a second independent evaluation carried out for the court after Judge Carlos Samour ruled that a first was “incomplete and inadequate”. But people familiar with insanity pleas in the Colorado courts system suggested that even if it stopped short of declaring Holmes insane, a finding that Holmes none the less had serious mental health problems might make it difficult for prosecutors to persuade jurors to deliver a death sentence in the trial’s second phase. He is one of many preparing for their opportunity to face Holmes once again in the coming months. “I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it,” said Young. “But I’m ready.”

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