By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Prosecutors have rejected the plea offer of the man accused of gunning down 12 people in a Colorado movie theater last July, saying his defense team's offer of a guilty plea in exchange for avoiding the death penalty was not legitimate, the Denver Post newspaper reported on Thursday.
"There is not — and has never been — an actual or unqualified 'offer' to plead guilty," prosecutors wrote in court documents released on Thursday, according to the paper. "The prosecution indicated that it could not consider such an offer without specific additional information, which the defense refused to provide."
Reuters was not able to obtain the filing before the Arapahoe County District Court closed on Thursday and the court posted no copies online. Prosecutors and defense attorneys rarely comment on the case, citing a strict gag order imposed by the judge.
James Holmes, 25, faces multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from the July 20 massacre at a showing of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado, that also wounded 58 people.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler has said that he would inform the court on Monday whether his office would seek the death penalty against the former University of Colorado neuroscience graduate student accused of one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
The possibility that Holmes could plead guilty in the sensational case made international headlines, and prosecutors suggested in their court filing that his lawyers were seeking publicity, according to the Post.
"The misrepresentation — now published by media outlets throughout the world — appears to be an attempt to deliberately prejudice the public, witnesses and victims against the People," prosecutors wrote, the paper reported. "The People believe that this needs to be corrected."
In their court filing on Wednesday, defense attorneys said that if prosecutors accepted their plea offer, the case could be resolved on Monday.
Lawyers for Holmes, who surrendered to officers outside the theater minutes after the shooting rampage, had been expected to mount an insanity defense on his behalf at trial.
"As previously stated in court, counsel for Mr. Holmes are still exploring a mental health defense, and counsel will vigorously present and argue any and all appropriate defenses at a trial or sentencing proceeding as necessary," the defense said in the court papers.
"Nevertheless, Mr. Holmes is currently willing to resolve the case to bring the proceedings to a speedy and definite conclusion for all involved," the defense said.
Scott Larimer, whose 27-year-old son, John, was slain in the mass shooting, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday that, while he previously felt he could accept Holmes pleading guilty and avoiding the death penalty, he now felt less sure.
"In theory, I'm not opposed to the plea, but that was more philosophical than fact. Now that's in black and white it's a whole lot different," Larimer said. "I wouldn't say I'm ready to sign off on it until the prosecutors - who have been very good at keeping us up to date - fully review it."
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Kevin Gray, Bernard Orr and Lisa Shumaker)
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