Theater shooting defendant is quiet as jury selection nears

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Aurora theater shooting a complicated case for jurors.

In this July 23, 2012 file photo, 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, sits in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo.(Photo: Associated Press) DENVER – At first glance, the Colorado movie theater shooting case seems simple. CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Theater shooting defendant James Holmes sat quietly and leaned back in his chair in court on Tuesday just hours before the start of the arduous process of choosing a jury to decide whether he was sane when he opened fire in a packed Aurora movie theater. Lawyers will choose 12 jurors and 12 alternates from a jury pool of 9,000 people, which experts told the Associated Press is the largest ever in U.S. history, to decide if Holmes was mentally ill when he allegedly killed a dozen people and wounded scores more. The jurors who are ultimately picked for the case will be expected to serve for as many as six consecutive months, on a wage of $50 per day, The Denver Post reported this week.

The jurors will fill out lengthy questionnaires, then go home and wait to learn whether they will be called back for the next phase of jury selection, which is expected to start in mid-February. 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.

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. 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. During a morning hearing, Judge Carlos Samour suggested that attorneys might not have to screen all the prospective jurors before beginning to select panelists. Sporting small, horn-rimmed glasses, neatly trimmed hair and beard, Holmes wore a charcoal gray sports jacket, blue-striped dress shirt and khaki slacks. 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 both sides agree they have a large enough pool from which to choose a jury. Robert and Arlene Holmes wrote that the death penalty is “morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill.” In the letter, Holmes’s parents also criticized the decision to hold a long trial that would force people “to relive those horrible moments in time.” This trial offers something rare: An alleged gunman, accused of carrying out a mass shooting, entering a courtroom to face a judge and jury.

There was debate Tuesday morning about whether prosecutors withheld video taken of the gunman at the Arapahoe County jail, but a decision was deferred. 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.

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Previously, 250 people were to be brought in at a time to fill out the questionnaires, but officials said the first panel would be smaller because of the fewer summonses — about 130 to 150 people. Even as the trial is officially beginning this week, it will still take until the summer — nearly three years after the shooting — for the courtroom trial proceedings to truly begin. 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.

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.

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. Samour called almost seven times as many prospective jurors as the 1,350 who were summoned recently for an initial screening in the Boston Marathon bombing trial in Massachusetts federal court, according to The Boston Globe.

Adam Lanza, who allegedly killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, shot himself after the massacre. Timothy McVeigh was executed in June 2001 after his conviction for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, including 19 children, and wounded hundreds more.

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