Jury selection begins in Aurora movie theater shooting trial

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Colorado theater shooting suspect has neat-trimmed hair, sits quietly as jury selection nears.

The trial of James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring scores more inside a Colorado movie theater, is finally getting underway on Tuesday. DENVER (AP) — Theater shooting defendant James Holmes has arrived in court in Colorado with neatly trimmed dark hair and sat quietly just hours before attorneys begin choosing a jury to decide if he was sane during the deadly 2012 attack. A series of delays pushed the start of jury selection into this month, more than two and a half years after the shooting spree during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.

In public for the first time since the 2012 shooting, Holmes was dressed in civilian clothes with no visible restraints, though the judge had ordered him to be tethered to the floor in a way the public couldn’t see for the trial. The trial has been postponed multiple times, with some of these delays centering on Holmes’s mental state and the different psychological evaluations that have taken place. An unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 people has been summoned and will be winnowed to a handful in the weeks ahead to hear the death penalty trial that could last until October. During a morning hearing, Judge Carlos Samour suggested that attorneys might not have to screen all the prospective jurors before beginning to select panelists. In a letter published last month, Holmes’s parents asked that their son not be executed, arguing that he should instead be institutionalized or imprisoned for the rest of his life.

He said the process could stop after a few thousand people are screened if he and the two sides agree they have a large enough pool from which to choose the jury. The judge also spent about 25 minutes going over ground rules for jury selection and the trial, urging attorneys on both sides to be professional and respectful. “The public is going to get an insight into the mind of a killer who says he doesn’t know right from wrong,” said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “It is really rare. It just doesn’t usually come to this.” In the 2 1/2 years since the shooting, the case has sparked an emotionally charged debate, with Holmes’ parents begging for a plea deal that would save his life while many survivors and family members of victims have demanded that he be put to death. The enormous number of prospective jurors being considered reflects just how deeply the mass shooting, one of the worst in the nation’s history, has impacted Colorado. An FBI study of “active shooter” situations looked at 160 incidents between 2000 and 2013, a list that named the Aurora shooting as the deadliest during that period.

More than half ended when the gunman stopped shooting, often because he committed suicide or fled; nearly half of the shooters looked at by this study ended their own lives. And in the months following the rampage, a long and wrenching debate over gun control dominated the state legislature here, an issue that continues to seep into local politics. Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Samour Jr. said in November that the court would summon 9,000 people, writing in an order that it would “be much easier to call off prospective jurors who are not needed than it will be to adjust if there are insufficient prospective jurors.” Jurors will file into the courthouse for two or three hours at a time to hear instructions and fill out a questionnaire. They will be told not to talk to the media and not to read about the trial (including jury selection) in the news, according to Samour’s prepared remarks.

Since the trial is expected to receive quite a bit of coverage, avoiding news about it “is likely to be a particularly daunting challenge that will require GREAT EFFORT on your part,” Samour wrote. (He repeated “GREAT EFFORT” two additional times in stressing the difficulty this could entail.) In many ways, this trial parallels one happening on the other side of the country. Prosecutors previously rejected at least one proposed plea deal made by attorneys for Holmes, criticizing the lawyers for publicizing the offer and calling it a ploy meant to draw the public and the judge into what should be private plea negotiations. “We’ve all been to therapists and have talked to our families and have our support groups, so we’re prepared,” said Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend, Rebecca Wingo, died in the attack. “It’s gonna be quite the journey.” It could take until June to find the jurors and alternates who were not biased by the widespread news coverage of the shooting. Samour has said that the Colorado court expects to have 24 people — a dozen jurors and a dozen alternates — selected by June at the latest, when opening statements are expected.

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