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New judge, trial date for James Holmes in death penalty case

April 01, 2013|By Jenny Deam and Michael Muskal

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The murder trial of James E. Holmes, accused in last year's deadly attack on a suburban movie theater, will not start until 2014 and will go forward under a new judge, officials decided on Monday after the prosecution announced it will seek the death penalty and rejected a guilty plea offer by the defense.

The defense was ready to allow Holmes to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution taking the death penalty off of the table. But a grim George Brauchler, district attorney for Colorado's 18th Judicial District, formally rejected the offer in court on Monday.

“It is my determination and my intention that in this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” Brauchler said at a court hearing.

The decision to reject the defense offer now sets the stage for what is expected to be a lengthy and costly trial and subsequent legal proceedings that are expected to go on for years -- if the prosecution does not revisit its decision.

Holmes' attorney Tamara Brady urged the court to allow as much time before the start of the trial as possible.

“They are trying to execute our client,” she said. “We will do whatever we can to save his life.”

Brady argued that the case was important and that it could become the most important case to be argued in the courthouse. “This is not an ordinary case,” she said. “Mr. Holmes has a right to due process.”

The trial had originally been scheduled to start in August before 18th Judicial District Chief Judge William Sylvester, who has been hearing the motions.

But citing his duties as chief judge,  Sylvester bowed out and named Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr.  to take the reins of the case.

The judge also set a tentative trial date for February 2014 after both sides argued about how long the trial will take. Prosecutors sought a three-month trial starting in January 2014, while the public defender’s office, which is representing Holmes, had sought a nine-month trial starting in the summer or fall of 2014. The defense argued it needed the extra time to adequately prepare.

Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding about 70 in his attack on a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20. The prosecution has maintained that Holmes acted deliberately and methodically in stockpiling weapons and ammunition for the attack during midnight showing of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The defense has already said that it believes that Holmes is mentally ill.

Sylvester has entered a not guilty plea on Holmes’ behalf, but the defense is expected to mount an insanity defense now that its offer of a guilty plea has been rejected.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

Deam, a special correspondent, reported from Centennial; Muskal from Los Angeles.

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