US shooting trial could provide glimpse into gunman’s mind
DENVER (AP) — One of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history will be replayed in a courtroom, possibly providing a rare look into the mind of Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes, one of the few gunmen to survive such attacks.
Holmes’ attorneys acknowledge he was the gunman in the July 20, 2012, attack that killed 12 people and injured 70, but say he was in the grip of a psychotic episode at the time. Jury selection begins Tuesday, and an unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 people must be winnowed to a handful to decide whether Holmes was insane when he opened fire during the showing of a new Batman movie.
His survival has sparked an emotionally charged debate in which his parents have begged for a plea deal that would save his life, while many survivors and family members of victims have demanded that he stand trial and face the death penalty if convicted. Many mass shooting suspects are killed by police or commit suicide.
“The public is going to get an insight into the mind of a killer who says he doesn’t know right from wrong,” said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. “It is really rare. It just doesn’t usually come to this.”
Holmes, 27, had just dropped out of a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, when he staged the attack. He was arrested as he stripped off his combat gear in the parking lot of the theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb.
He later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. If jurors find him guilty, they must then decide whether to recommend the death penalty.
If Holmes is found not guilty, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.
Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Part of the reason the case has dragged on so long is the battle over whether that standard applies to Holmes.
Few details on those arguments have been made public. Prosecutors and defense attorneys remain under a long-running gag order, and court documents detailing the issue have stayed under seal.
Holmes’ sanity was evaluated by a state psychiatrist but the results were not made public. Prosecutors objected to the findings and persuaded a judge to order a second evaluation. Those results were contested by the defense.
Prosecutors previously rejected at least one proposed plea deal made by attorneys for Holmes, criticizing the lawyers for publicizing the offer and calling it a ploy to draw the public and judge into what should be private plea negotiations.
SADIE GURMAN, DAN ELLIOTT
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