Colo. suspect charged with 24 counts of murder
CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — Prosecutors on Monday charged a former neuroscience graduate student with 24 counts of murder and 116 counts of attempted murder in the Colorado theater rampage that once again opened a national debate over guns. Legal analysts expect the case to be dominated by arguments over his sanity.
James Holmes appeared just as dazed as he did in his first court appearance a week ago, but at one point he exchanged a few words with one of his attorneys. Some victims and family members again watched him in the packed courtroom, and before the hearing some clasped their hands and bowed their heads as if in prayer.
The July 20 attack at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie left 12 people dead and 58 others injured. Holmes faces two counts for each victim — murder with deliberation and murder with extreme indifference. Both carry a maximum death penalty upon conviction.
A former chief deputy district attorney said a conviction under extreme indifference means that any life sentences would have to be served consecutively, not concurrently.
Holmes also faces one count of possession of explosives. After his arrest outside the theater, police said they found his apartment was booby trapped.
Unlike Holmes’ first court appearance, Monday’s hearing was not televised. At the request of the defense, District Chief Judge William Sylvester barred video and still cameras, saying expanded coverage could interfere with Holmes’ right to a fair trial.
The judge also has placed a gag order on lawyers and law enforcement, sealing the court file and barring the University of Colorado Denver from releasing public records relating to Holmes’ year there. A consortium of media organizations, including The Associated Press, is challenging Sylvester’s sealing of the court file.
Attorneys on Monday also were arguing over a defense motion to find out who leaked information to the media about a package the 24-year-old Holmes allegedly sent to his psychiatrist at the university.
Authorities seized the package July 23 after finding it in the mailroom of the medical campus where Holmes studied. Several media outlets reported that it contained a notebook with descriptions of an attack, but Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said in court papers that the parcel hadn’t been opened by the time the “inaccurate” news reports appeared.
On Friday, court papers revealed that Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist at the university. But they did not say how long he was seeing Dr. Lynne Fenton and if it was for a mental illness. An online resume listed schizophrenia as one of her research interests.
Holmes allegedly began stockpiling gear for his assault four months ago, and authorities say he bought his weapons in May and June, well before the midnight shooting spree during a showing of the new Batman film. He was arrested by police outside the theater.
“This is not a whodunit,” said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver. “The only possible defense is insanity.”
Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. However, the law warns that “care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives, and kindred evil conditions.”
Experts say there are two levels of insanity defenses. Holmes’ public defenders could argue he is not mentally competent to stand trial. If they cannot convince the court that he is mentally incompetent, and he is convicted, they can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill. Prosecutors will decide whether to seek the death penalty in the coming weeks.
Holmes ultimately could enter a plea to the anticipated dozen first-degree murder charges verbally, or his attorneys could enter it for him. Prosecutors may file multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder and other charges against Holmes, whom Aurora police say booby-trapped his apartment with the intent to kill any officers responding there.
Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said there is “pronounced” evidence that the attack was premeditated, which would seem to make an insanity defense difficult. “But,” he said, “the things that we don’t know are what this case is going to hinge on, and that’s his mental state.”
Authorities say Holmes legally purchased four guns before the attack at Denver-area stores — a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols. To buy the guns, Holmes had to pass background checks that can take as little as 20 minutes in Colorado.
Meanwhile Monday, a relative said a woman who lost her 6-year-old daughter in the shooting and suffered a miscarriage is expected to be paralyzed as a result of her injuries.
MaryEllen Hansen said that doctors still hope her niece, Ashley Moser, will have use of her arms.
Moser’s daughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was the youngest person slain in the shooting. On Saturday, Moser’s family announced that Moser had suffered a miscarriage related to the trauma of the shooting. Moser suffered gunshot wounds to the neck and abdomen.
NICHOLAS RICCARDI and P. SOLOMON BANDA
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