Accused in 'Batman' cinema murder case pleads insanity
A JUDGE has accepted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity from the suspect in the Colorado cinema massacre case.
James Holmes, a former graduate student, is accused of opening fire in a packed Denver-area cinema last summer, killing 12 people and injuring 70.
He is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The July 20 atrocity was one of several mass shootings that re-ignited the US debate over gun violence, and it helped prompt Colorado to adopt significant statewide gun control laws this year.
Hundreds of people were watching a midnight showing of 'The Dark Knight Rises' at the Aurora theatre when the shooting occurred. At yesterday's hearing, the court clerk placed a written advisory of the ground rules of the plea before Holmes so he could examine it as Judge Carlos Samour Jr. read through all 18 points.
When Judge Samour asked if he had any questions, Holmes replied "no" in a clear, firm voice. Judge Samour then accepted the plea.
"I find Mr. Holmes understands the effects and consequences of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea," the judge said. "He was looking at the advisement and appeared to be following along."
Judge Samour also determined prosecutors can have access to a notebook that Holmes sent to a psychiatrist before the rampage.
Holmes' lawyers repeatedly have said he is mentally ill, but they delayed the insanity plea while arguing state laws were unconstitutional. They said the laws could hobble the defence if Holmes' case should ever reach the phase where the jury decides if he should be executed.
The judge rejected that argument last week.
The dead included a Navy veteran who threw himself in front of his friends to shield them, an aspiring sports journalist who had survived a mall shooting just two months earlier, and a six-year-old girl.
Prosecutors say Holmes spent months buying weapons, ammunition and materials for explosives and scouted the theatre in advance. He donned police-style body armour, tossed a gas canister into the seats and opened fire, they say.
The insanity plea is widely seen as Holmes' best chance of avoiding execution, and possibly his only chance, given the weight of the evidence against him. But his lawyers delayed it for weeks, saying Colorado's laws on the insanity plea and the death penalty could work in combination to violate his constitutional rights.
The laws state that if Holmes does not cooperate with doctors conducting a mandatory mental evaluation, he would lose the right to call expert witnesses to testify about his sanity during the penalty phase of his trial.
Defense lawyers argued that is an unconstitutional restriction on his right to build a defence. They also contended the law doesn't define cooperation.
Judge Carlos Samour Jr. rejected those arguments last week and said the laws are constitutional.
The next step is an evaluation of Holmes by state doctors to determine whether he was insane at the time of the shootings.