Colorado prosecutors seek second sanity exam for accused theater gunman

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 18, 2013 9:39 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the Colorado theater massacre case have asked a judge to order accused gunman James Holmes, who says he was insane when he killed 12 moviegoers, to undergo an additional sanity examination, court documents made public on Monday show.

The specific reasons for the government's request were not made public, because the motion was filed under seal.

Holmes, 25, was subjected to a court-ordered sanity examination at a state mental health hospital after invoking the insanity defense earlier this year. The conclusions reached by evaluators have not been released publicly.

The former neuroscience student is scheduled to go on trial in February for the July 2012 murders of 12 moviegoers and the wounding of 70 others during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" at a suburban Denver cinema.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Holmes if he is convicted.

In response to the prosecution filing, Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour noted that public defenders opposed the motion, and ordered both parties to confer and come up a date for a hearing soon because the issue could "impact the February trial date."

Since the filing is sealed, legal analysts said they could only speculate why prosecutors were seeking the additional testing.

Former Colorado prosecutor Bob Grant said state case law precluded a judge from ordering any defendant to undergo a second sanity examination, but there may be some issues being raised that are not covered by current law.

"It could be that there is some specific disorder that was not raised in the initial examination or possibly something to do with his competency," Grant said. "Prosecutors just can't ask for a second evaluation because they didn't like the first one."

Competency determinations have to do with a defendant's current state of mind, and sanity deals with an accused's mindset at the time of the crime.

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Public defenders have said in previous court filings that Holmes was in the midst of "a psychotic episode" when he went on the shooting rampage and has been hospitalized at least twice since his arrest for mental health issues.

Longtime Colorado defense attorney Mark Johnson said competency could be raised by any party, including a judge, at any stage of criminal proceedings.

"It's possible that the state hospital determined he was insane, but probably more likely they questioned his competency," Johnson said. "Either way, there is something the evaluators said that provoked this response."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)