By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Jury selection in the murder trial of Colorado theater gunman James Holmes is moving quicker than expected, with individual questioning of prospective jurors set to begin next week, a court spokesman said on Monday.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ruled that the initial screening process will end a week earlier than scheduled, said Rob McCallum, public information officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch.
"The judge indicated from the bench that he is very pleased with the turnout,” McCallum said, adding that Samour released nearly 2,000 people from their jury summonses on Monday.
Holmes, 27, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to shooting dead 12 moviegoers and wounding dozens more inside a Denver-area theater during a screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in July 2012.
Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and explosives charges stemming from the rampage, and said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.
The onetime neuroscience graduate student, whose lawyers have said was undergoing a psychotic episode when he opened fire, has appeared in court during the 10 days of jury selection tethered to the floor and wearing civilian clothes.
Among the issues prospective jurors will be asked include their views on capital punishment, the insanity defense and the widespread news media coverage the case has generated.
The individual questioning of prospective jurors is set to take up to four months until a workable number between 100 and 150 is reached.
Eventually that list will be narrowed down to 12 jurors and 12 alternates who will be impaneled to sit for the trial, which could take up to four months.
Samour earlier told attorneys for both sides to be prepared to present their opening statements in late May or early June, although that timeline could be moved up if jury selection continues to move faster than anticipated.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)