Defense in Colorado shooting case asks judge to move trial

AP News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2015 7:27 PM

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case have again asked a judge to move the trial, writing in court documents released Monday that most prospective jurors already believe defendant James Holmes is guilty.

The request came nearly two months into jury selection, as attorneys question individual candidates about their views on mental illness and the death penalty.

In recent weeks, Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. and attorneys on both sides have qualified more than 70 people for the final stage of selection.

Still, lawyers for Holmes contend that intense negative publicity about the attack has biased the jury pool and made it impossible to find impartial panelists in Arapahoe County, where the 2012 attack left 12 people dead and 70 others injured.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

In an effort to find people with no connection to the shooting, Samour initially summoned more than 9,000 prospective jurors — a number that experts called the biggest jury pool in U.S. history.

In their request to move the trial, defense attorneys claimed about 68 percent of the more than 3,500 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires said they believe Holmes is guilty, and more than half of that group added they can't put that opinion aside.

About 39 percent said they believe Holmes was either sane or not mentally ill, the documents state. More than 30 percent of the prospective jurors said they already believe Holmes should be sentenced to death, the lawyers contend.

"The questionnaires reveal that the residents of Arapahoe County are deeply saturated not only with detailed knowledge and opinions, but bias concerning this case," defense attorneys wrote in the documents that include more than 1,000 pages of local news articles and opinion pieces they consider prejudicial.

Promises by prospective jurors to set aside their knowledge and opinions are not enough to ensure Holmes gets a fair trial, the documents say.

On Monday, Samour asked a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings to return for another round of questioning after the person said he could be fair despite having been childhood friends with the shooters and the prom date of a victim.

The attorneys initially sought a change of venue last year, but Samour did not rule on the request, saying attorneys should try to find impartial jurors within the county.

Prosecutors have until March 27 to file their response to the latest defense demand to move the proceedings.

Moving the trial could be costly and difficult.

A courtroom in the Centennial courthouse has been remodeled at a cost of $26,400 to accommodate the 12-member jury and 12 alternates Samour is seeking.

A new venue also would raise questions about housing and transporting Holmes. In Centennial, deputies can move him between the courthouse and neighboring jail relatively easily.

In a separate ruling, Samour agreed to keep the public from seeing graphic autopsy and crime-scene photos during the trial. Victims' families said they would be traumatized by the images that will be shown only to jurors.