Theater shooting: Things to know as defense case begins
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Defense attorneys for Colorado theater shooter James Holmes are preparing to open their case Thursday with witnesses they hope can illustrate the severity of his mental illness at the time of the attack.
Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 in July 2012 at a suburban Denver movie theater. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
In Colorado, the burden is on prosecutors to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane when he opened fire on the crowded auditorium. But the defense case is important even if it is unsuccessful because it could affect whether the jury sentences Holmes to death if he is convicted.
Some things to know as the defense prepares to begin Thursday:
Prosecutors called two court-appointed doctors who examined Holmes in the months and years after the shooting and found that, although he was mentally ill, he could tell right from wrong and met Colorado’s definition of legal sanity. The defense says Holmes suffers from schizophrenia and was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the theater and started firing. They plan to call at least two of their own mental health experts who also analyzed Holmes.
Prosecutors presented Holmes’ spiral notebook as proof of his methodical plans for mass murder. But the notebook could also help defense attorneys, who will focus instead on its less coherent pages, including Holmes’ self-diagnosis of his “broken mind” and a section titled “Crazy Thoughts” which ends with the word “Why?” scribbled hundreds of times over eight pages in ever-larger writing. Defense attorney Daniel King called the notebook “a whole lot of crazy.”
Defense attorneys could play jailhouse video showing Holmes running head first into walls and falling backward off his bed in a November 2012 episode that sent him to a hospital. Around the same time, Holmes was found naked, licking walls and eating lunch meat between two paper cups. He sucked his thumb and cried. Later, King said, Holmes ranted about seeing shadows.
King said in opening statements: “Look at the video, and you tell me if he would do this for notoriety.”
Defense attorneys expect to wrap up their case in about two weeks, less than a fourth of the time it took prosecutors to finish their case. The short time frame is partly because defense attorneys don’t have to call scores of victims each with emotional testimony. Their witness’ testimony is expected to be highly contentious, with lots of cross-examination by prosecutors.
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