BLOOMBERG: Death Penalty Sought in Colorado Movie Theater Massacre


Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against James Holmes, accused of opening fire in a Colorado movie theater in July and killing 12 people.

The Arapahoe County district attorney’s office told Judge William Sylvester of their decision today at a hearing that lasted two minutes in state court in Centennial, in suburban Denver.

“For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” District Attorney George Brauchler said today.

Prosecutors last week rejected an offer from Holmes to plead guilty and spend his life in prison without any chance of parole in exchange for sparing him from the death penalty.

Sylvester entered a not guilty plea at Holmes’s arraignment on March 12 because Daniel King of the Colorado public defender’s office told the judge that Holmes wasn’t ready to plead. Previously, Holmes’s lawyers said they were considering an insanity plea.

The case was reassigned today to Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who rescheduled the trial date to Feb. 3 from Aug. 5.

Doug Wilson, head of Colorado’s public defender’s office, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the case.

Probable Cause

“Prosecutors in this state have rarely sought the death penalty and have reserved this sentence for the cases they have considered to be the worst of the worst,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said in an e-mail. “Most people would probably agree that this case constitutes the worst of the worst.”

Sylvester ruled in January that the government established probable cause that Holmes committed the crimes of which he’s accused. Holmes, who studied neuroscience at theUniversity of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

Prosecutors rejected Holmes’s offer to plead guilty because, they said in a court filing, his attorneys have “steadfastly and repeatedly” refused to provide information required to consider the offer. Brauchler didn’t specify in the filing what information his office was seeking.

Holmes will likely be the first defendant in a Colorado capital-punishment case to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s insanity-defense laws, Steinhauser said, and such a challenge will delay a trial.

Mental Condition

Public defenders have already objected to a provision blocking Holmes from calling witnesses to present evidence about his mental condition if he doesn’t cooperate with court- appointed psychiatrists. Under Colorado law, psychiatrists are permitted to require Holmes to submit to interviews under the influence of a so-called truth serum, according to Steinhauser.

Sylvester ruled March 11 that prosecutors may require Holmes to submit to a “narcoanalytic interview” under the influence of “medically appropriate” drugs. Such drugs can enable a person to recall something they’re having difficulty remembering, Steinhauser said.

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