Lawyers for Colorado theater shooter to appeal second sanity exam

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 23, 2014 4:14 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Lawyers defending the man charged with murdering 12 Colorado moviegoers in 2012 will appeal a judge's ruling that he undergo a second sanity examination, court documents made public on Wednesday show.

Public defenders for James Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for the shooting rampage that also left 70 people injured, said in a court filing that they will petition the Colorado Supreme Court to overrule the presiding judge.

Holmes, 26, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in July 2012.

Lawyers for the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate have conceded that Holmes was the lone gunman, but said he was in the midst of "a psychotic episode" when he went on the killing spree.

Prosecutors have said that they would seek the death penalty for Holmes if he were convicted.

Holmes underwent a court-ordered psychiatric examination last year after invoking the insanity defense, but the results have not been made public.

In February, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ordered a second examination, siding with prosecutors who argued that the first evaluation was "incomplete and inadequate."

Samour said the second examination should focus on Holmes' mental state at the time of the killings, rather than on his competency to stand trial or questions about whether mental illness should be a factor in sentencing.

The appeal of his ruling was expected by Samour, who put on hold the second evaluation he ordered while the issue is litigated by the state's highest court. Defense lawyers said they will file their petition within 30 days.

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Colorado defense lawyer and legal analyst Mark Johnson said Holmes' lawyers are challenging whether Samour erred by compelling their client to submit to further testing after he already underwent one court-ordered evaluation.

"What the public defenders are saying is that the judge exceeded his authority by ordering a second examination under the very specific state statute on insanity defenses," Johnson said.

It is unclear if the latest development will delay the trial for Holmes, which is set to begin in October, as the Supreme Court could decline to hear the petition, Johnson added.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Tom Brown)