Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on June 4, 2013.

By law, once a defendant pleads insanity, the judge must order him to undergo a mental examination to determine whether he was insane when he committed the crime. In a death-penalty case, the defendant will also be examined to determine if his mental illness is so great that it precludes him from being executed.

If the lawyers or the judge request it, a defendant can also be examined to determine whether he's competent to proceed. Competency is different than sanity. Rather than a measure of what the defendant was thinking at the time of the crime, it's a measure of whether he's now able to understand the charges against him and help his attorneys.

The first mental evaluation of Holmes was completed by early September 2013, three months after his plea. While its results are still secret, Judge Samour has revealed one conclusion: Holmes is competent to stand trial.

A defendant's competency can be restored with drugs and treatment — and it's widely speculated that Holmes is heavily medicated. When he first appeared in court three days after the shooting, he seemed dazed and looked as if he were struggling to stay awake. Experts consulted by every news outlet from CNN to Entertainment Tonight offered the opinion that Holmes was taking serious prescription drugs. He's often seemed unemotive in subsequent hearings, not speaking to his attorneys. Sometimes he clasps his hands in his lap and steeples his fingers.

If Holmes was indeed restored to competency with treatment, it wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened in an insanity case. In fact, it happened in the case of another young man accused of a brutal and seemingly senseless crime.

Joe Valentine Romero was just seventeen when he was arrested in 2003 for the gory stabbing death of George Turner, the 91-year-old former mayor of Walsenburg, a small town in southern Colorado. Investigators determined that in the summer of 2002, someone entered Turner's house as he was taking an afternoon nap, slit his throat and stabbed him more than a dozen times. Turner's body was found in a closet.

At first, the police were stymied. Nothing of value had been taken from Turner's house, there were no signs of forcible entry and there seemed to be no motive for anyone to kill the frail old man. Former prosecutor Cathy Mullens remembers that investigators chased down several leads before a local police detective suggested taking a closer look at Joey Romero. He belonged to a group of teenagers who hung out at a house down the alley from Turner, and the detective knew Romero to be a withdrawn kid who walked around town listening to music on his headphones. His favorite band, Mullens recalls, was the horrorcore hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse.

"They talk an awful lot about killing people, stabbing people and decapitation," she says. "It's really dark, and it's very loud, and Joey listened to it incessantly."

The detective told Mullens and the other investigators that she'd run into Romero a few days after Turner's murder and that his demeanor had changed; he seemed more confident, and he even waved at her, which he'd never done before. A few days after that, however, Romero suffered a mental-health episode and was briefly hospitalized.

Several months later, DNA tests conducted on the crime scene revealed that blood found in Turner's sink contained a mixture of his blood and Romero's blood.

"When they focused on him, he made a full confession," recalls Romero's public defender, Les Downs, now a private defense attorney in Trinidad. Given the facts of the case, Downs's first move was to hire a psychiatrist to evaluate Romero. But the doctor discovered a problem, one that Downs already suspected: Romero was so mentally ill that he didn't understand what was happening or that he'd been charged with murder. "He had a flat affect and was very unemotive," Downs recalls. "He was not all there."

Downs said he was reluctant to raise the issue of his client's competency because he knew it would result in Romero's being sent to the state hospital for an evaluation by the doctors there. He was worried that the state psychiatrists would ask Romero about the facts of the case, which they are allowed to do. At trial, prosecutors can use new evidence obtained during a mental examination to rebut evidence presented by the defense.

But the psychiatrist that Downs hired believed it "was such an open-and-shut case that it wouldn't hurt," Downs says. He was right: When the case finally went to trial before a judge in 2005, Romero was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to the state hospital.

Mullens, who retired four years ago, wasn't happy with the outcome — and neither was Turner's family. "All of the doctors agreed he was insane," Mullens says. "I couldn't argue with it." But, she adds, "I don't like our law. I think that a person who commits a crime like this should be held responsible."

**********

The Holmes case appears to be headed for a jury trial. Judge Samour has laid out plans to summon 6,000 prospective jurors, and both sides have submitted questions to be included on a jury questionnaire. The jury box in Samour's courtroom was recently expanded to fit 24 chairs — seating enough for twelve jurors and twelve alternates.

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14 comments
groundskeeperwilly
groundskeeperwilly

My take on people like this? haul their ass out east of Pueblo about 40-50 miles on the prairie, stake them naked over a fire ant nest.
Screw insanity defense, nuf said, no hand wringing, a painful miserable death.

sussmanbern
sussmanbern

Pleading insanity is a real gamble for a defendant; it means he has completely given up on an alibi, on denying he did it, on suggesting that there was justification or mitigating circumstances, etc.  He is openly admitting that he committed the murder and his one and only defense is that we should take pity on him because we are willing to believe he is sick.


This defense very seldom works in the real world.  In addition, there are are least two conflicting standards - the old M"Naughton Rule that he was so crazy that he didn't even know what he was doing - and the newer Durham Rule that he knew but really really really couldn't stop himself.  Either one is a real high hurdle.


Considering that the 'reward' for a successful insanity plea can be a lifetime locked in a psych ward - where he would have even fewer legal rights than if he were in prison - this defense is trotted out only for cases with a life or death sentence.  Frankly I think a lot of jurors are saying to themselves, "I don't care that he hears voices or sees phantoms.  I don't want this guy ever turned loose even twenty years from now.  Since I don't trust bleeding heart shrinks, I'd rather send him where he'll be locked in a cage forever or put to death."

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Stop lying. You couldn't kill a cockroach if it was crawling right up your schnoz.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

There are many people in this world who have never even seen someone who is floridly psychotic.  Then again, some people have witnessed bizarre behavior & not understood what they were seeing.  This frequently happens when Law Enforcement encounters those with altered states of consciousness.


I would like to share a video of an expert in the field of deception & malingering.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCnUlQt7YN0


If you are a mental health professional, you may be aware of this text:  http://www.amazon.com/Clinical-Assessment-Malingering-Deception-Edition/dp/1593856997/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0/181-7000442-2446242


I am providing this for public information.  I do not wish to argue with anyone who has never stepped foot inside prison or worked with within a forensic environment.  I have many years of clinical experience specific to this population. 

Tiffany Marie
Tiffany Marie

The fact someone could choose to plead insanity, in itself suggests intelligence. Most people who are truly insane are pitifully unaware of being so.

Kacey Ingram Jechura
Kacey Ingram Jechura

I was on the Clewis Green jury. We made the right decision, he clearly understood his actions were wrong evidenced through his own taped confession. He is mentally ill, he was also sane at the time of the crime. These things are not mutually exclusive, which Kossie-Butler seems to not understand.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

If they know they are insane by the acts they do then they are competent to die for what they did.

LindaLee Law
LindaLee Law

They get pampered instead of hard labor. If they are so mentally ill then hard labor won't hurt.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

... typical ignoramus, confuses intelligence with insanity.

thewreckingbelle
thewreckingbelle

Most defendants enter a plea based on the advice of their legal counsel, not their own intelligence or excellent decision-making.

 
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