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US cinema trial postponed over sanity issue

November 22, 2013

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — James Holmes’ trial for the Colorado theater shootings was postponed indefinitely to give both sides time to argue over the prosecution’s request that he undergo more psychiatric evaluation.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 during a “Dark Knight” showing at an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. His attorneys have acknowledged he was the shooter but said he was “in the throes of a psychotic episode.”

The massacre was one of several recent mass shootings around the U.S. that rekindled debate over gun control laws.

Holmes underwent a mandatory sanity evaluation at the state hospital last summer. The results haven’t been made public, but prosecutors said at a hearing on Thursday they want a review of one of three conclusions. They did not elaborate.

Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. postponed the trial indefinitely, ordered both sides to submit written arguments on further psychiatric evaluation, and tentatively scheduled hearings for Dec. 17 and 18.

Karen Steinhauser, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said most court-ordered sanity evaluations look at whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial; has an impaired mental condition or mental illness; and was insane at the time of the crime.

Steinhauser, who is not involved in the Holmes case, said the prosecution’s request for further evaluation might indicate that Holmes was found sane but with an impaired mental condition.

If that is the case, it could be tough for prosecutors to convince a jury to convict him of murder and sentence him to death because of the difficulty in making a distinction between mental illness and insanity. Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to tell right from wrong.

Longtime Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said he is not aware of a Colorado judge ever granting a prosecution request for a second sanity evaluation.

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

Law enforcement officers have testified that Holmes planned the attack for months, stockpiling guns and ammunition. They also say he elaborately booby-trapped his apartment with bombs designed to explode and divert police and fire crews from the theater.


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