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Prosecutors seek further Holmes sanity evaluation

November 18, 2013

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting case want defendant James Holmes to undergo further evaluation of his sanity, according to court records made public Monday — a development that suggests the first examination might have found he was insane.

The findings of the first evaluation have not been publicly disclosed, but longtime Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said it was highly unlikely prosecutors would ask for further examination if the first found Holmes was sane. Recht is not involved in the case.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 at a suburban Denver theater in July 2012. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to tell right from wrong because of a mental disease or defect. An evaluation by the state mental hospital is mandatory for anyone who pleads insanity. Holmes underwent his last summer.

If the doctors who conducted the evaluation concluded Holmes was insane, it would be much harder for prosecutors to persuade a jury to convict him of murder and sentence him to death.

If jurors agreed Holmes was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to the state hospital. If doctors there ever concluded Holmes’ sanity had been restored, he could one day be released, but that is considered unlikely.

The request by the district attorney’s office for a further examination “is a clear indication that the prosecution is unhappy with the state hospital evaluation,” Recht said. “It certainly suggests that the opinion of the state hospital psychiatrists is favorable to the Holmes defense of insanity.”

Prosecutors would have to show a good reason for the judge to approve their request, Recht said.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who is handling the Holmes case, has not said when he might rule or hold a hearing.

Details of the motion filed Friday seeking a new evaluation were not made public.

Prosecutors asked to have the motion kept secret, and Samour agreed. The judge has imposed a gag order on both sides, forbidding them from discussing the case publicly outside the courtroom.

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. His trial is scheduled for next year, with jury selection set to start in February.


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