Judge in theater shooting case rebuffs insanity-defense law challenge

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 08, 2013 2:46 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The judge overseeing the murder case in the Colorado movie theater massacre refused to overturn provisions of an insanity-defense law that attorneys for the suspected gunman say would violate the rights of the accused to avoid self-incrimination.

James Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the shooting rampage last July that killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 58 others during a screening of the "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.

His lawyers filed motions last week challenging the constitutionality of a Colorado statute that requires a defendant who raises an insanity defense to submit to examinations by court-appointed psychiatrists.

The law, which would compel Holmes to provide potentially damaging information that could be used against him at trial, or at sentencing should he be convicted, violates his Fifth Amendment guarantee of protection against self-incrimination, defense lawyers argued.

But Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester rejected the motion, saying the issues raised by defense lawyers were premature since Holmes has yet to enter a plea, and prosecutors have not indicated whether they would seek the death penalty.

In his ruling, released on Friday, Sylvester said he would not rule on "any questions dependent on hypothetical facts and circumstances."

"This court will not prejudge any issues or deliver any premature or advisory opinions," he wrote.

Holmes, 25, is scheduled to enter a plea next Tuesday.

Sylvester also agreed with prosecutors who argued in their response to the defense motions that higher courts have upheld the body of Colorado's insanity defense statute.

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"The Colorado appellate courts have confirmed that statements made during, or observations acquired from, a defendant's court-ordered mental examinations are admissible to prove the defendant's sanity," the ruling said.

Former Colorado district attorney Bob Grant said the flurry of pleadings filed by defense lawyers is common in potential death penalty cases.

"These are all stalling tactics," said Grant, who prosecuted Colorado's last death-row inmate to be executed. "Every day they can delay is another day he (Holmes) stays alive."

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Phil Berlowitz)