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James Holmes considering insanity plea in theater shooting

March 02, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • In this July 23 photo, James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Lawyers for Holmes have indicated their client might plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
In this July 23 photo, James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District… (RJ Sangosti / Associated…)

The suspect in the Colorado theater shooting may plead not guilty by reason of insanity, according to court documents filed by his attorneys.

The motions filed this week on behalf of James E. Holmes call into question the constitutionality of several aspects of the state’s insanity defense laws for defendants, such as Holmes, who could face the death penalty.

The 25-year-old former neuroscience student is accused of storming an Aurora theater on July 20 and opening fire on the crowd which had gathered to watch the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Twelve people were killed and dozens of others were injured.

“Mr. Holmes is considering entering a plea” of not guilty by reason of insanity, according to the documents, but first he wants the court to consider several issues. One such issue is the phrase “mental condition,” which appears several times in a key statute.

“ ‘Mental condition’ apparently means something different in each portion of the statute, but no definition is provided. A defendant in a potential capital case cannot be asked to simply guess, and proceed without a definition of what the phrase means,” the attorneys wrote.

The lack of clarity concerning that phrase, the attorneys argue, leaves important questions unanswered. For example, if he entered a plea of not guilty by insanity, would that mean Holmes could be compelled to take a court-ordered examination? Would it mean that he would lose any claim of confidentiality with a physician or psychologist?

His attorneys say the answers to those questions, and others, are not clear.  In another motion, the attorneys ask for a clearer definition of the word “cooperate.”

The motions were filed Thursday and released Friday. They were submitted to the court by Holmes’ public defenders, Daniel King, Tamara A. Brady and Jason Middleton.

Holmes, his attorneys wrote, thinks his constitutional rights will be violated if the court doesn’t clarify salient aspects of the law before compelling him to make a plea.

“Counsel for Mr. Holmes cannot make an intelligent and effective decision regarding which plea to enter or how to proceed in a potential capital case without knowing the meaning and scope of the term ‘mental condition,’ ” the attorneys wrote.

Holmes faces 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. His arraignment is set for March 12.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

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