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Colorado rampage: Legally, focus to be death penalty, expert says

July 22, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • A man writes the names of the victims of Friday's massacre on 12 crosses at a makeshift memorial across the street from the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo.
A man writes the names of the victims of Friday's massacre on 12 crosses… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Colorado shooting suspect James E. Holmes is expected to make his first appearance Monday morning in a court case that appears so clear-cut that at least one expert said the legal machinations could come down to one straightforward question:

If he's convicted, does the suspect deserve the death penalty?

Holmes was taken into custody without incident early Friday morning, just a few feet from the scene of carnageat a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Authorities say Holmes — dressed head-to-foot in body armor — opened fire on moviegoers who were there to see the new Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises." In all, 12 people were killed and 58 injured.

PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting

"It is all but certain that prosecutors will file first-degree murder charges against Holmes in the Arapahoe County courthouse and that they'll seek the death penalty, criminal law expert Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, told the Los Angeles Times.

Kamin predicts that as the case moves forward, points of dispute between the prosecution and the defense will revolve less on the question of what Holmes did or did not do on Friday morning, and more on his state of mind at the time.

"The evidence of his guilt is pretty strong," Kamin said. "The ... case for death is strong. So the question becomes, what is the case for mitigation? Is there a history of mental illness? Is there some instance of abuse in the past? Is there anything in the defendant's past that might make a jury willing to spare him?

"That is what this case is going to come down to," said Kamin. "What would be compelling to a jury?"

Arapahoe County's top public defender, James O'Connor, has been assigned to handle Holmes' case. The defense attorney could not be reached Sunday for comment. 

Colorado residents, like many others in America, are conflicted over the death penalty.

While the death penalty is an option available to prosecutors, there are currently only four people on death row in Colorado, and only one person has been executed there since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Those who know Holmes say they are baffled by the allegations. They describe him as a somewhat shy but brilliant loner with a gift for science. 

Another issue likely to crop up during the course of the trial: Will Holmes' defense team attempt to have the case moved out of Arapahoe County in a bid to find jurors who have not been directly affected by the massacre?

It's hard to imagine there are many people in Arapahoe County not affected by the shooting in one way or another. 

ALSO:

Thousands expected at vigil honoring dead, injured

Guns, ammo in Colorado theater shooting were legal

Gun control advocates: Americans must voice outrage at massacre

Join Rene Lynch on Google+ and Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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