Accused gunman to enter plea in Colorado theater massacre

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 11, 2013 10:29 PM
Accused gunman to enter plea in Colorado theater massacre

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday and enter a plea to charges that he went on a shooting rampage nearly eight months ago that killed 12 moviegoers during a screening of the latest Batman movie.

His lawyers are expected to mount an insanity defense for Holmes, 25, who surrendered to officers outside the theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora within minutes of the July 20 mass killing.

Holmes faces multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from the rampage that also wounded 58 people and was one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

On Monday, Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester ruled Holmes could be given "medically appropriate" drugs during psychiatric interviews and possibly face a polygraph test if he chooses to raise an insanity defense.

Holmes' lawyers have argued he should not be drugged while undergoing examinations by court-appointed psychiatrists.

Prosecutors have depicted the former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver as a young man whose once promising academic career was in tatters.

He failed graduate school oral board exams in June and one of his professors suggested he may not have been a good fit for his doctorate program, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have 60 days after Holmes enters a plea to decide whether to seek the death penalty. But in a sign that they might be considering such a move, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said earlier this year that he was adding a death-penalty lawyer to the case.

Holmes' lawyers unsuccessfully sought earlier this month to have the state's insanity-defense law declared unconstitutional by arguing it requires a defendant to incriminate himself or herself to court-appointed psychiatrists.

Defense attorneys also revealed in pleadings released last week that Holmes had spent several days in a psychiatric unit in November, frequently in restraints, as jail officials believed he was a danger to himself.

Another aspect of the case so far has been Sylvester's efforts to clamp down on leaks.

In January, Sylvester asked that a New York-based journalist for Fox News testify about her sources for a story on a notebook linked to Holmes that went out days after the judge imposed a gag order in the case. The journalist is fighting the judge's ruling that calls on her to testify.

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Holmes is accused of strapping on body armor and a gas mask and spraying moviegoers at the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" with bullets until one of his guns jammed.

Police testified that Holmes began assembling his collection of guns and ammunition two months before the shooting, scouted out the multiplex weeks ahead of time.

Holmes had booby-trapped his apartment near the theater with explosives, which police said was intended to draw authorities away from the movie house while he was carrying out his assault. The bombs were later defused safely.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)