News Column

Death Penalty Looms in Aurora Shootings

April 1, 2013

If the death penalty is sought for the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre suspect, the defense must decide whether to use an insanity defense, observers say.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said he would announce during a hearing Monday whether he will seek the death penalty against James Holmes, The Denver Post reported.

Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others when he opened fire in a movie theater July 20. He has been charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other offenses.

The prosecutors and defense could argue over court papers filed last week in which Holmes offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence and prosecutors' rejection of it, the Post said.

Brauchler wrote in a filing that prosecutors requested "specific access to information that would allow them to fully assess the defendant and his alleged acts" but were refused.

Without the details, Brauchler said in his filing, it was "extremely unlikely" prosecutors would make a deal.

If there is a trial, Holmes' attorneys suggested they would raise a mental-health defense, the Post said.

"The issue is not whether they're going to enter an insanity plea on his behalf," said Dr. Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist. "I suspect the issue is more about the exposure that ... places on their client."

Holmes' attorneys shied away from entering an insanity plea last month.

Pitt said the defense may have hesitated because such a plea is extremely risky.

"When you're entering an insanity plea, you're saying 'I did it,' " Pitt said. "'I did it but I wasn't in my right mind when I committed the offenses, and I couldn't appreciate the wrongfulness of my conduct.'"

Attorneys not affiliated with the case said Holmes' lawyers likely will attempt all they can to achieve their main goal in the case.

"In any potential death-penalty case," Denver attorney Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor, told the Post, "the primary goal of the defense attorneys is to save their client's life."

Source: Copyright UPI 2013

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters