James Holmes case update: Judge wants more info about request to release victim names
Update below: Prosecutors say victims of the Aurora theater shooting are "severely concerned" about their own safety and for that reason, the names of all victims and witnesses in the case should be kept secret. The argument came in response to a request from several media outlets to release the names of victims whose identities have been redacted from court documents.
Victims are afraid to go into their backyards because there are "helicopters trying to take pictures of their minor children," said prosecutor Lisa Teesch-Maguire at a court hearing this morning. Other victims have had their pictures posted on a Facebook page maintained by supporters of accused shooter James Holmes, she said, and Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who saw Holmes when he was a neuroscience student at the University of Colorado, has been afraid to live at her house.
Teesch-Maguire also cited the case of Javad Marshall-Fields, a witness in a murder case who was slain in 2005 along with his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, as a reason for caution. The media, she argued, thinks victims' privacy rights "have a shelf life and have expired."
Holmes's attorneys agreed that victims' names and other sensitive information should not be released. Public defender Daniel King said he was "amazed at the callousness" of media lawyer Steve Zansberg, who argued that court documents released to the media have been excessively redacted to include blacking out information that has been discussed in open court.
Though both prosecutors and defense attorneys said they concur that some redactions have been excessive, King said Zansberg "talks about the victims in this case as if they are cannon fodder." He also said that dealing with motions filed by the media take away from the time lawyers have to spend on the criminal case. He made reference to needing to examine "the depth of Mr. Holmes' mental illness."
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Zansberg argued that the media treats victims with respect and that comparing this case to what happened to Marshall-Fields is unfair. He pointed out that the names of victims were previously released by the court but then redacted in later documents. He acknowledged that while one victim suffered identity theft by a person who filed court motions under the victim's name, that's "far too speculative a concern to warrant blanket closure of all victim's names."
Zansberg's mention of identity theft is likely a reference to a bizarre court filing blaming the theater shooting on Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates and the Illuminati, among others. Suspicions in regard to the filing have been directed at self-described lawsuit factory Jonathan Lee Riches. However, local authorities have decided not to pursue prosecution in this case.
Judge William Sylvester did not immediately rule on this matter. He said he'd issue a decision by Monday.
Holmes was in court today, wearing a red jumpsuit and sitting next to his lawyers. His hair remained its natural brown color. As usual, he didn't speak.
Lawyers for Holmes said they're not ready to proceed to a preliminary hearing in November, as originally scheduled. "This is an extraordinarily large case," public defender Tamara Brady said. She asked that the hearing be continued until early 2013, and both sides agreed on possible dates in January and February, though a definite date hasn't been set.
However, Holmes's lawyers do want to move forward with a hearing to determine who "leaked" information to the media about a package sent by Holmes to Fenton. Holmes's lawyers have called for sanctions against whomever is responsible.
Prosecutor Rich Orman argued that the defense's allegations are too vague. They "don't indicate if this is accurate information," he said of the leak. Brady clarified that the defense is referring to a story by Fox News about the package and its contents that cited unnamed law enforcement sources. The story said Holmes sent a package to Fenton that contained a notebook in which there was a drawing of a stick figure shooting other stick figures.
Sylvester set a hearing on the issue for October 25. Brady said the defense plans to present evidence and that she expects the hearing to last a couple of hours. That day, both sides will also discuss when they're ready to move forward with the preliminary hearing.
In addition, Sylvester granted prosecutors' motions to add additional charges against Holmes and to amend other charges without any discussion.
Update, October 12, 11:50 p.m.: Judge William Sylvester will delay ruling on whether to release victims' names and "unseal excessively redacted information" from court documents, as several media outlets requested. According to an order released today, he's asking the media outlets, prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit further written argument by October 22 as to why or why not the information should be released.
See the judge's order below.
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