A courtroom sketch shows James E. Holmes, accused in the Colorado movie… (Bill Robles / Associated…)
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Most of the details of the case against James E. Holmes, the man accused of the midnight movie shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured, will remain sealed to the public, a judge ruled Monday.
Saying that Holmes' right to a fair trial outweighed the media's quest to release more details and shed light on the proceeding, District Judge William Sylvester left intact much of the gag order for those connected to the case and kept most of the police and court documents sealed, including arrest and search warrants.
Twenty media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, argued last week to ease the gag order and unseal documents in the case.
In his rulings, Sylvester acknowledged the huge public and media interest in the mass shooting at the July 20 midnight movie premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises" at an Aurora movie theater.
Yet he ultimately decided that allowing the wholesale release of information would be a mistake that could not be undone. It would be, he wrote, like “stepping on the brakes of an automobile in midair after driving off a cliff -- a driver can pump the brakes all he/she wants but the impending wreck is inevitable." Disclosures could produce “untold harm” to the case, he said.
Last week Daniel King, Holmes’ court-appointed lawyer, said media leaks had already damaged his client’s case. King also revealed a hint at his defense strategy, alluding to his client's mental illness.
Among the details that remain sealed are the relationship and conversations Holmes may have had with a University of Colorado psychiatrist whom he reportedly saw while a neuroscience doctoral student at the school. Those details are considered a crucial clue to possible motive in the shooting rampage that happened six weeks after he withdrew from the school. The issue of doctor-patient privilege and what, if anything, can be disclosed is expected to be argued in a hearing Thursday.
Although Sylvester kept much of the case sealed, he did agree to make public 34 court documents related to the case, most of which are motions and rulings on issues already filed. In addition, he declined to address media complaints that agencies not directly named in the gag order, such as the coroner’s office or fire officials, have used it to block information requests. Sylvester said those agencies would have to make their own decision regarding media access.
Steve Zansberg, a Denver lawyer who argued for the 20 media outlets last week, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday he was pleased with the ruling. Even though much remained a mystery, he said the judge had offered some transparency to the judicial process. He added that the restrictiveness of this case, while unusual, was not unprecedented this early in the case.
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