Jury selection begins in Colorado theater shooting trial

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Aurora theater shooting jury pool down to 7,000; Holmes in court.

CENTENNIAL — The pool from which jurors for the Aurora movie theater shooting trial will be drawn has shrunk to 7,000 names, after 2,000 of the summonses were undeliverable, a judge said Tuesday. CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – The first time James Holmes appeared in court, he wore chains and an orange jail jumpsuit and looked dazed, with his hair dyed a comic-book shade of orange. The first 188 of those prospective jurors will arrive at the Arapahoe County courthouse Tuesday afternoon for the start of jury selection in the case. Holmes, sporting a new look, sat quietly and appeared engaged on Tuesday as proceedings began at his trial on murder and other charges in connection with the 2012 mass shooting in a suburban Denver movie theater. As jury selection began Tuesday in the Colorado theater shooting, it was a far different Holmes at the defense table: The jail uniform was replaced with khakis, an untucked blue shirt with white stripes and a blue blazer.

More than 100 potential jurors filtered into the county courthouse here to fill out questionnaires and hear a judge’s introduction to one of the most complicated and emotionally charged criminal cases in this state’s history. Also gone was the jailhouse garb that he has worn for every appearance in the more than two years since the attack on the Aurora, Colo., movie theater. The former graduate student whose attorneys acknowledge he opened fire at a midnight “Batman” movie back in 2012 also had a curly, medium-length beard and wore oval-shaped reddish glasses. He wore brown horn-rimmed glasses and trimmed his brown hair and beard — a stark contrast from the prison jumpsuit and shock of disheveled, orange hair he sported in court after his arrest in July 2012.

The former University of Colorado graduate student was unshackled during the hearing, and was seen leaning back in his chair and exchanging comments with his lawyers. He blended in easily with the lawyers at his defense table. “What is most important to me is that justice be done,” Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said in the Tuesday morning status hearing.

Choosing the jury could take until May as prosecutors and defense lawyers sift through juror questionnaires and interview hundreds, if not thousands, of people who may end up among the 12 jurors and 12 alternates seated to weigh Mr. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but could be sentenced to death if found guilty on multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. A record 9,000 summons have been sent to prospective jurors in Arapahoe County, but that has been winnowed to 7,000 because of the usual technicalities such as outdated addresses. It has been 914 days since, authorities say, Holmes burst into a packed suburban movie theater in Aurora, tossed a tear-gas canister into the crowd and opened fire.

The trial, however, is permitted to be broadcast live whenever opening arguments begin, giving a national audience a first real look at Holmes and an understanding into his motivations. The jurors will weigh mountains of evidence and hear countless hours of testimony from witnesses, police officers, mental health experts and others as they consider whether Mr. 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. The gunshots came less than a second apart, round after round, until 12 people were dead and more than 70 others injured, some permanently, in the barrage of shotgun and semiautomatic gunfire let loose during a screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” It has never been in doubt that Holmes, a once brilliant but deeply troubled neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver, pulled the trigger: 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.

Selecting 24 jurors will be a complicated process, Silverman said, particularly since the jury must be death certified, meaning people who are opposed to the death penalty cannot sit on the jury. The video is apparently from the jail where Holmes has been held, but its contents have not been made public. “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. 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 executed. 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. Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish right from wrong.

Prosecutors previously rejected at least one plea deal proposed by Holmes’ attorneys, 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 going to be quite the journey.” Judge Samour called nearly nine times as many prospective jurors as were summoned in the ongoing Boston marathon bombing trial.

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