Jurors to see graphic images at Colorado cinema massacre trial

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 23, 2014 8:02 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Jurors in the murder trial of Colorado cinema gunman James Holmes will see the majority of the gruesome photographs and video taken at the crime scene, but a handful of images will be barred, the judge overseeing the case ruled on Tuesday.

Defense lawyers had argued the photos could prejudice the jury against Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and wounding dozens more by opening fire in a Denver-area theater in July 2012 during a midnight screening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

But prosecutors countered that they were necessary to make their case against the 27-year-old California native, and Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour rejected most of the defense's motion in his ruling, saying images which depict the aftermath of crimes charges are allowed.

"That many of the photographs will be difficult to view does not render them inadmissible," Samour wrote, adding that the same logic applied to the disturbing video footage recorded inside the cinema following the rampage.

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

The judge said he was "disinclined" to allow into evidence one photo showing a disemboweled woman, if the prosecution could provide a less graphic version.

Images of a bloody emergency room where victims were treated are likewise inadmissible, Samour ruled, because their value is "substantially outweighed by the danger for unfair prejudice."

Photos and video taken inside Holmes' car that show a skull-shaped gearshift, and which the defense wanted barred, will be allowed because they depict part of the crime scene, he said, but prosecutors cannot tell the jury the defendant's choice of gearshift reflects any criminal intent.

Samour did agree with defense lawyers who asked that a photo showing an undisclosed poster on the refrigerator in Holmes' apartment be cropped or blurred, saying the poster could offend some jurors.

Jury summonses were sent to 9,000 county residents this month, and jury selection is set to begin in January. Samour has told lawyers from both sides to prepare to make their opening statements in late May or early June.

Last week, Holmes' parents broke their silence over the killings, saying their son is mentally ill, "not a monster," and should be spared the death penalty.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)