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Aurora theater shooting: Four days set to discuss second mental evaluation of James Holmes

Accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes looked unkempt at a court hearing this morning to discuss setting another hearing that, if the public is allowed to attend, could shed some light on his mental health.

Holmes sported bushy hair and a beard and sat stoically as he listened to Judge Carlos Samour set aside four days -- January 27, 28, 29 and 30, 2014 -- for a hearing on prosecutors' request that Holmes undergo a second mental evaluation. The lawyers say they expect four experts to testify at the hearing.

Holmes is accused of killing twelve people and injuring seventy more by opening fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora on July 20, 2012. In a court filing in July of this year, Holmes's defense attorneys admitted he was the gunman but said he was "in the throes of a psychotic episode when he committed the acts that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries sustained by moviegoers."

In June, Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He subsequently underwent a sanity evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo to determine three things: whether he is competent to stand trial, his sanity on the date of the offense and how any mental disease he may suffer affects any mitigating factor in the death penalty law.

On November 15, prosecutors filed two motions requesting further examination "pursuant to C.R.S. 16-8-106(1)." Colorado Revised Statute 16-8-106(1) is the section of state law that details how a mental evaluation of a defendant who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity should be carried out. Aside from the titles, the motions were sealed.

The remodeled Century 16 theater in Aurora, where the shooting took place.
The remodeled Century 16 theater in Aurora, where the shooting took place.

But in court last month, prosecutors explained that they'd like Holmes to be evaluated a second time "by a different clinician" regarding one of the three conclusions reached by the first mental evaluation -- a move that has caused Holmes's previously scheduled February trial to be postponed. They did not say what the conclusion was.

The defense objected. In prosecutors' reply to the defense's objection, they raised what Judge Samour cryptically calls "a new request and new arguments." In an order (on view below), Samour says that new request is "untimely and improper." But, he says, given the importance of the issue, he'll allow the prosecution to make it.

In court today, Samour set deadlines for the defense to respond to the prosecution's new request and for prosecutors to reply to the defense's response. Holmes's attorneys have until January 10 to respond and prosecutors have until January 17 to reply.

The hearing on the prosecution's request will begin on January 27 and is expected to last three to four days. Samour quickly ticked off the last names of the four expert witnesses who are expected to testify, referring to some of them as doctors. Holmes's attorneys have requested that the hearing be closed to the public "due to the nature of the subject matter being discussed and the irreparable harm that the dissemination of this information would cause to Mr. Holmes's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury." The prosecution disagrees and wants the hearing to remain open. Samour indicated today that he'll decide this week.

He also vacated a hearing set for January 3, at which New York-based Fox News reporter Jana Winter was scheduled to testify. Winter was subpoenaed by Holmes's attorneys after she wrote a story quoting unnamed law-enforcement sources as saying that a notebook Holmes mailed to a psychiatrist contained "details about how he was going to kill people." Holmes's attorneys want to know the identity of Winter's sources.

But last week, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that Winter did not have to testify because she is protected by that state's shield law. Holmes's defense attorneys said today that they're considering whether to appeal the ruling.

Continue to read Samour's order and the New York Court of Appeals ruling.

 

Order Re: Mental Evaluation Hearing

Opinion From New York Court of Appeals Re: Jana Winter

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting trial postponed: Victim Marcus Weaver disappointed by delay."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com


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