Jury selection to start in Colorado cinema massacre trial

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Aurora theater shooting trial begins: how it compares with Tsarnaev case (+video).

James Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 more in a shooting spree in a crowded theatre in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012. | AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool, File DENVER — At first glance, the Colorado movie theater shooting case seems simple. 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. Holmes’s family and defense team maintain that he was experiencing a psychotic episode and was unable to tell right from wrong when he opened fire at a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie in Aurora on July 20, 2012.

Experts say it is rare to have a mass shooter appear in court to face charges — many either are killed by police or commit suicide. “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.” The first step begins on Tuesday, when 9,000 prospective jurors — what experts say is the largest jury pool in U.S. history — begin arriving at the courthouse in Centennial, in suburban Denver. In the 2-1/2 years since the shooting, the case has sparked an emotionally charged debate, with his 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 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.

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. Because the plea is rare and defined differently from state to state, it is not well understood by the public, according to an analysis of the plea in this case published in the Journal of Law and Social Deviance. In Colorado, however, it is the prosecution’s responsibility to prove that the defendant is sane enough to be held fully responsible. “Many people believe that the insanity defense is a loophole that allows guilty defendants to ‘go free,’ ” write legal experts Kathleen Bantley and Susan Koski in the analysis. “In one survey, sixty-six percent of respondents believed that the insanity defense should not be available.” Some legal analysts argue that this defense is protected by the 14th Amendment’s due process clause or the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Coloradans aren’t as opposed to the death penalty as many Massachusetts residents are: A poll conducted by The Denver Post found that 68 percent of Coloradans favor the death penalty.

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