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Huge jury pool to be summoned for James Holmes murder trial

June 25, 2013|By Jenny Deam
  • Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo. Holmes appeared in court again Tuesday at a hearing where a judge discussed the timing of the trial and potential jury pool.
Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo.… (Andy Cross / Associated…)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- At least 5,000 juror summonses, possibly a state record, will be issued to seat a panel for the trial of movie theater shooting suspect James E. Holmes, the judge in the capital murder case said Tuesday.

District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said that out of those summoned -- he already has ruled that a special jury pool will be created for the high-profile Holmes case -- he hoped at least 3,200 would be available to serve. Samour has estimated that jury selection could take weeks.

Holmes, 25, who was in court Tuesday with freshly cropped hair and a trim beard, is charged with 166 counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in connection with last summer’s movie theater massacre. The July 20 rampage in a packed Aurora theater left 12 dead and 70 injured.

He faces the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and cannot be put to death if he is found to be insane or suffer from a mental defect.

“I don’t know if this is the biggest pool of jurors we’ve ever had in this state, but if not, it’s certainly among them,” said Karen Steinhauser, an adjunct law professor at the University of Denver who has been closely watching the case.

Defense attorneys have indicated they will ask for a change of venue. The judge has yet to consider that request.

Trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 3 and expected to last four months. On Tuesday,  Samour again voiced his determination to keep that date. However, he did reluctantly grant a state hospital request for more time to evaluate Holmes’ sanity. Last week, the head of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo asked for a six-week extension to Sept. 16.

Holmes’ mental state and whether he knew right from wrong has been a key issue in the case from the beginning. His lawyers have said the former neuroscience doctoral student is deeply mentally ill.

In an insanity case in Colorado, unlike in many states, the burden falls on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was sane at the moment of the crime.

For months the prosecution has described Holmes as a brilliant student whose life began to unravel at the University of Colorado-Denver. As early as four months before the shooting, Holmes allegedly told a fellow student he wanted to kill people and “would do so when his life is over,” according to documents previously filed. He also amassed an arsenal of weapons and explosives beginning in May 2012, testimony has shown.

On Tuesday, Samour granted a defense request to seal the names of any mental health professionals who might have treated Holmes in the past to protect their privacy.

Typically treatment and conversations between a doctor and patient are confidential and cannot be used as evidence. But because Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, that privilege is waived.

In a related issue, both the prosecution and defense strongly objected to a request by attorneys for a Fox News online journalist to look at a notebook Holmes sent to a university psychiatrist just before the shooting.

The reporter, Jana Winter, has been at the center of a legal fight over whether she will have to reveal unnamed law enforcement sources who told her about the contents of the notebook after it was confiscated in a university mailroom. Law enforcement officers were under a gag order at the time Winter spoke with them.

In a request filed last week, Winter’s lawyers said that now Holmes’ doctor patient privilege has been waived and because the reporter’s fate hangs in the balance, they need to examine the notebook to prepare their legal challenge. Samour has said Winter could face jail time if she does not reveal her source.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Rich Orman sniped at the request in court, saying there was no difference between turning the notebook over to Winter’s lawyers and handing it out to passersby on the street. “We’re giving it to Fox News,” he said.

Winter is due back in court in late September when Samour is expected to decide whether she must testify.


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