Judge in Colorado cinema rampage case rebuffs bid to throw out death penalty

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2014 4:07 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The judge presiding over the Colorado theater massacre case has rejected a new effort by attorneys for accused gunman James Holmes to have the state's death penalty law declared unconstitutional, court documents showed on Thursday.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of opening fire inside a Denver-area cinema in July 2012 during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 moviegoers and wounding dozens more.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, and said they would seek the death penalty for the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate if he is convicted.

Lawyers for Holmes have filed multiple challenges to Colorado's capital punishment statute, all of which have been rejected.

Holmes had a mandatory sanity examination last year, but Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ordered a second evaluation, siding with prosecutors who argued the first one had been "incomplete and inadequate."

In their latest motion to have the state's death penalty law thrown out, Holmes' lawyers argued that U.S. Supreme Court decisions barring the execution of juveniles and the mentally disabled should extend to defendants who suffer chronic mental illness.

Although the conclusion of neither sanity exam has been made public, Samour appeared to confirm widespread conjecture that the two expert evaluators disagreed on Holmes' condition.

In denying the latest defense motion, Samour noted in his ruling that Holmes' mental state was at the core of the case.

"Because this will be one of the contested issues at trial, it would be inappropriate for the Court to accept the defendant's assertion at face value," he wrote, adding there was no case law that prevented the execution of mentally ill defendants who are not deemed legally insane.

Samour has said 9,000 jury summonses will be sent to county residents this month, and jury selection is set to begin in January.

He has said it will take several months to seat a jury, and that lawyers for both sides should be ready to present their opening statements in late May or early June.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)