By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL Colo. (Reuters) - Prosecutors and the lawyers defending accused theater gunman James Holmes told a Colorado judge on Thursday that initial questioning of prospective jurors in the mass murder case should be closed to the public and media.
The disclosure came during a hearing before Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour centering on jury selection and other logistical issues ahead of the trial set for October.
Holmes, 26, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from a July 2012 rampage at a suburban Denver cinema during a screening of a Batman movie in which 12 moviegoers were killed and 70 others injured.
Lawyers for the former neuroscience graduate student have conceded Holmes was the lone gunman but say he suffers from a chronic mental illness. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors have indicated they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.
Public defenders said in a motion that the public and media be barred from the entire jury selection process because of the “overwhelming amount of publicity” generated by the case.
“Prospective jurors are likely to be extremely reticent to candidly discuss their views on important issues like the insanity defense, the death penalty and their knowledge and opinions ... in the face of the intense media scrutiny,” the motion said.
Prosecutor Karen Pearson told Samour the blackout idea marked “one of the few times” both sides have agreed on an issue. She said that closing the process was warranted until an initial jury pool of 6,000 has been pared down, but stopped short of saying the whole process should be closed.
Attorneys for a consortium of news outlets filed notice that they will submit a motion to oppose closing the proceedings. Samour said he would rule on the motion after reviewing the media objections.
Shackled and wearing red prison garb, Holmes sat silently throughout the two-hour proceeding.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)