Theater shooting defendant in court as jury selection nears

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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.An unprecedented pool of 9,000 jurors will travel to a Colorado courthouse on Tuesday where jury selection will begin in the long-awaited trial of James Holmes for a gun massacre in Aurora. Holmes was dressed in civilian clothes Tuesday and 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.

Holmes, a 27-year-old former graduate student, faces 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges in the shooting, which took place in Aurora, Colo., during a showing of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” Some 9,000 summonses have been mailed out to potential jurors in Arapahoe County—one of the largest jury pools ever called in the U.S., according to legal experts. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the first-degree and attempted murder charges brought forth by prosecutors; if he is found guilty of the crimes, jurors would have to decide whether or not he gets the death penalty. During a morning hearing, Judge Carlos Samour suggested that attorneys might not have to screen all the prospective jurors before beginning to select panelists.

The scope of jury selection and the trial is a testament to the logistical hurdles of trying the rare case of a mass shooter who survives his own attack. “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. 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.

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.

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. After more than two years of public scrutiny swirling around the case, experts say it will be especially challenging for prosecutors and defense lawyers to find jurors who can truly be impartial. 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.

During the selection process, Holmes’ attorneys will focus on picking jurors who are morally opposed to capital punishment, even as prosecutors fight to ensure those on the panel are “death-penalty eligible,” meaning they would be open to executing Holmes.

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