Bloomberg News

Theater-Shooting Suspect Loses Death Penalty Law Challenge (2)

May 30, 2013

James Holmes, facing capital murder charges over the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting rampage that killed 12 people, lost a constitutional challenge to state’s death penalty law.

State court Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. in Centennial, Colorado, ruled yesterday that the provisions Holmes objected to in the state’s capital punishment statute and its laws governing the insanity defense are constitutional. Samour today postponed until June 4 a hearing on whether Holmes will be permitted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

“The statutory provisions of the insanity statutes and the death penalty statute challenged by the defendant are constitutional,” Samour wrote in yesterday’s 51-page ruling.

Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder. In addition to those killed, 70 people were injured in the July 20 shooting spree at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Cinemark Holdings Inc. (CNK:US)’s Century Aurora 16 theater in the Denver suburb.

“It’s a pretty detailed, thoughtful analysis of the statute,” Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said in a phone interview, referring to Samour’s ruling.

Samour ruled the Colorado insanity law is constitutional “on its face” without applying it to Holmes’s case in particular, Steinhauser said. Lawyers for Holmes may appeal the ruling or wait to see if the alleged flaws in the law end up applying to their client and challenge it later, she said.

Truth Serum

Public defenders representing Holmes objected on due process grounds to a provision of Colorado law blocking him from calling witnesses at any sentencing hearing to present evidence about his mental condition if he doesn’t cooperate with court-appointed psychiatrists. Under state law, psychiatrists can require Holmes to submit to interviews under the influence of a so-called truth serum, according to Steinhauser.

The judge who previously handled the case, William Sylvester, ruled 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.

Prosecutors in March 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.

James O’Connor, the head of Colorado’s State Public Defender office, didn’t immediately respond after regular business hours yesterday to a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

Lisa Pinto, a spokeswoman for Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Kass in Centennial, Colorado, courthouse at kassj@msn.com; Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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