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James Holmes to be arraigned in Aurora, Colo., theater massacre

March 12, 2013|By Jenny Deam
  • James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo., last July. He is to be arraigned Tuesday and is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity in the Aurora, Colo. theater rampage that left 12 dead and about 70 others wounded.
James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial,… (RJ Sangosti )

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – James E. Holmes, the man accused of unleashing the movie theater massacre seven months ago in Aurora, Colo., is expected to enter a plea on Tuesday.

Holmes, 25, will be arraigned at 9 a.m. in a case involving a crime that has transfixed and horrified the nation in its viciousness. The former neuroscience doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Denver is accused of opening fire in a packed movie theater on July 20, killing 12 and wounding about 70. He is charged with 166 counts and could face the death penalty.

He has been held without bail in isolation at the Arapahoe County Jail since his surrender and arrest minutes after the theater shooting.

Late last week, Chief District William B. Sylvester, of Colorado’s 18th Judicial District, paved the way for the arraignment by overruling defense claims that the state’s laws on insanity pleas were unconstitutional.

It is widely expected that Holmes, whom his lawyers have characterized as deeply mentally ill, will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. If he is found to be insane or to have a mental defect, he would avoid the death penalty.

On Friday, the defense again signaled its intention by asking that hospital videotapes of Holmes' admission last November for an emergency psychiatric evaluation  be preserved. Sylvester granted the request.

According to the motion, on Nov. 15 Holmes was taken by ambulance to Denver Health Medical Center, “where he remained for several days, frequently in restraints.” The motion says Holmes was considered “a danger to himself” while in Arapahoe County Jail.  This incident, the defense said, is separate from a hospitalization earlier that month for “self-inflicted head injuries in his cell.”

The defense has previously contended that because this is a potential death penalty case, the stakes are higher in efforts to preserve Holmes' constitutional rights.

In motions filed Feb. 28, the defense unsuccessfully argued that if Holmes pursues an insanity defense but refuses to cooperate with a state psychiatric evaluation, he could lose his right to offer testimony about his mental condition. That would be a violation of due process, the defense argued.  He also could lose his right to doctor-patient privilege and to shield his previous mental health history, which could result in self incrimination, the defense said.

In his ruling, Sylvester said that Colorado laws on insanity pleas have been upheld by other courts.

On Monday, the judge provided the defense with a 26-point written advisement of the consequences of an insanity plea, including that he would waive privilege and that, if Holmes did not cooperate during a state-ordered examination, his previous statements and confessions could be used to draw conclusions.  

Sylvester has said he would not address the constitutional questions directly in relation to the death penalty because the district attorney has yet to ask for capital punishment. The state has 60 days after arraignment to decide whether to do so.

The judge has agreed to allow one still photographer and one television camera in the courtroom for the arraignment. 

nation@latimes.com

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