Jury selection to start in Colorado cinema massacre trial

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Caldwell: Value of James Holmes trial goes beyond legal questions.

When you get down to it, the only major legal issue left to decide in the trial of James Holmes is what kind of insane he was when he sprayed bullets into an Aurora 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.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) — 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. Or was it the type that allowed him to plot a massacre yet understand what he was doing was wrong, therefore making him eligible for the death penalty?

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. 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.

So, there will be eight or 10 months of trial, perhaps hundreds of witnesses, and a serious commitment of time from jurors, who will see their lives and peace of mind disrupted. 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. It might help us understand how a young man smart enough to get into a doctoral program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado could have gotten to the point where he amassed a serious stash of weapons and ammunition, dyed his hair orange and went on a rampage.

It just doesn’t usually come to this.” Holmes, 27, was arrested as he stripped off his combat gear in the parking lot of the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, where 12 people were killed and 70 injured during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie. 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. I don’t think, however, there’s any arguing that what he did — and he has admitted to the shooting in pursuing a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity — was monstrous.

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. 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. The people who specialize in such things undoubtedly will scrutinize the testimony, searching for warning signs and facts common to other mass shooters.

It is a net so wide that in a county with about 500,000 eligible jurors, nearly 1 in 50 residents could receive notices. “There has never, in the history of Colorado, been a jury trial like this,” said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver turned defense lawyer and expert on jury selection. But the political reality is that the majority of the American public will not get behind the sort of broad, strict gun control that could make a difference, and that’s assuming it would be constitutional.

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. 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. So know this: There is value, painful and horrifying as it will be, in navigating the homicidal landscape that James Holmes created in an effort to understand what seems insane and unfathomable. 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. If Holmes is found guilty of murder, the jury would then decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or executed.

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. 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. 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.

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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