Aurora theater shooting: Carol Chambers, James Holmes and the death penalty
At his next court appearance, on Monday, suspected Aurora theater shooter James Holmes is expected to be formally charged by a prosecution team fronted by 18th Judicial District DA Carol Chambers. Our Alan Prendergast is an expert on Chambers thanks to feature articles such as "The Punisher," so it's no surprise he's been sought after by national media on questions about the case, including the strong possibility she'll seek the death penalty. Below, listen to a Prendergast interview on WIND-AM in Chicago and the transcript from his appearance earlier this week on CNN.
CNN transcript, July 23:
So where does this case go from here? The top prosecutor, her name is Carol Chambers. She is tough. She's controversial. She is a staunch supporter of the death penalty and she doesn't shy away from the spotlight.
OUTFRONT tonight, a reporter who has covered her career. His name is Alan Prendergast. He's from "Westword Newspaper". He is at the Centennial Colorado Courthouse -- he's right here with me as a matter of fact, standing by with me here -- and from New York, legal contributor Paul Callan. Thank you both gentlemen for joining us tonight.
Paul, I'm going to start with you. Do the term limits, Chambers is out of office in January, so how far will this case even get under her watch?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, under Colorado law, she has to make a decision about whether she's going to seek the death penalty within 60 days of the arraignment in the case. And the arraignment could take place as early as next month, so -- I'm sorry, next week. So it's quite possible that she will make the decision. And I would also say, given her prior history and I'm sure we can talk about that in terms of the politics of it that she probably would be someone who would want to make that decision. She's made death penalty decisions many times in the past.
LEMON: And Alan Prendergast (ph), since Chambers is finishing up her term soon, how much of an effect can she really have on this case because the election will be in November. January, she'll be out. So how much on this high-profile case?
ALAN PRENDERGAST, STAFF WRITER, WESTWORD NEWSPAPER: She can certainly lay the groundwork for a capital case and among all the DAs in Colorado she's shown the least reluctance to file those kinds of charges. The problem is number one she will be gone in six months. And number two, not all of her cases have been successful. There have certainly been a lot of questions raised about the way she approaches the death penalty.
LEMON: Yes. You say that she is controversial. Tell me about some of her tactics. I hear that she you know starts billing cases that were part of her cases in the county she'd bill them to the state?
PRENDERGAST: This was a case involving two inmates at the state prison who were charged with murder of another inmate. She essentially wanted the state to pay for the prosecution under a very obscure statute that says the state should pay for crimes prosecuted in prison. But that case, one of those two defendants was ultimately acquitted, which I mean I can't think of another death penalty case where the defendant was acquitted.
LEMON: I also read that she's timed judges' breaks and --
PRENDERGAST: She's had -- she's had issues with judges. She's had issues with some police witnesses. You know she's had issues with disclosures in her office that should have been made and appeals raised on things where it seemed like the prosecution team was cutting corners. It may be that you know if the victims really want resolution here, you want someone who's a little more measured and isn't going to create quite as many appeal problems.
LEMON: All right. Paul, listen, despite the evidence, Chambers refused to say that this case was a slam dunk. She didn't want to say that. She said I don't want to say this is a slam dunk. Listen you have one victim here who is under 12 years old, 6 years old, as a matter of fact. Is she sort of hedging here?
CALLAN: She doesn't want to look unseemly in saying that a death penalty case is a slam dunk. I mean let's look at what she has. She has a theater full of witnesses who presumably can identify the defendant. She has the defendant's apartment thoroughly wired to be an enormous bomb. She has all kinds of forensic evidence linking him to the purchase of the ammunition that was used. This is a slam dunk.
So if you can't get a conviction on this fact pattern, you might as well give up the practice of law. Now, the death penalty is a different matter. Depending upon who sits on this jury, there are some jurors who may have conscientious objections and don't want to hand down a death penalty sentence. She could lose that part and wind up with life in prison. But, please, this is a very, very strong case.
LEMON: Yes, all but the smoking gun, really. And you can say, yes, they found him with the smoking gun. Listen Colorado has the death penalty, Paul, three people currently on death row. Chambers put two of them there. And here is what she said today about consulting the victims before deciding on the death penalty. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAMBERS: If the death penalty is sought, that's a very long process that impacts their lives for years. And so they will want to have -- and we will want to get their input before we make any kind of a decision on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: From what you know, Alan, about her, do you think that she will -- is going to decide upon this case, upon the families' wishes or do you think she's already made up her mind?
PRENDERGAST: I think she'll take the families into consideration. But I do think that -- I would be very surprised if she didn't seek the death penalty in light of her track record.
LEMON: Including the death penalty here, does that complicate things, Paul?
CALLAN: Yes, it does because on the one hand, you've got to obtain a conviction in the underlying charge. And then there's an entire second trial, really, on the issue of whether the death penalty is appropriate. You know you started the sentiment with that film of Holmes, you know when he was younger giving that speech at a science camp. That sort of thing will be used to try to humanize him and say that this is some bizarre aberration possibly caused by mental illness. So it really -- it does create a whole second level of trial, but nonetheless, given the number of victims and given the nature of this atrocity, it does seem like a case that almost any prosecutor would wind up ultimately seeking the death penalty in.
LEMON: Paul, Alan, thank you both very much. Thank you gentlemen.
More from our News archive: "DA Carol Chambers under fire for giving witness a car in death-penalty case."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.