James Holmes Trial Can Be Televised, Judge Rules, But No TV Cameras in Courtroom

The courtroom where the trial will take place as it appeared in June 2013.
The courtroom where the trial will take place as it appeared in June 2013.
Andy Cross/Denver Post

The media can broadcast the trial of accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, the judge in the case has ruled. But the television stations won't be able to set up their own camera in the courtroom, as they'd requested. Instead, they'll be allowed to broadcast footage captured by a closed-circuit camera mounted to the courtroom ceiling.

Judge Carlos Samour explained why he's allowing the trial to be televised in an order on view below: "While the media can generally serve as the public's surrogate, members of the public should have the opportunity to see firsthand their justice system at work."

See also: Televising James Holmes Trial Would Be Bad for Victims and Witnesses, Lawyers Argue

However, a still camera requested by the Denver Post will not be allowed in the courtroom. Samour wrote that "the print media may obtain still images from the electronic media's broadcast." Although a lawyer for the Post argued that those images would not be high-quality, Samour stood firm. "Allowing a representative of the print media to stand up at any time during the trial to take photographs would unduly detract from the solemnity, decorum and dignity of the courtroom," he wrote.

The closed-circuit camera will not detract from the proceedings, he wrote. The camera will show the witness stand, the defense table (where Holmes sits), part of the prosecution table and Samour. It won't show the jury. The camera's zoom functions won't be used without Samour's permission and he will also have a "kill switch" to turn the camera off.

Former Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers addresses the media outside the courthouse after James Holmes's first court appearance in July 2012.
Former Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers addresses the media outside the courthouse after James Holmes's first court appearance in July 2012.

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Samour's ruling also restricts where the media can film outside the courtroom. For example, the first two floors of the courthouse are off-limits. At past hearings, the media has been allowed to set up cameras in an area where it's possible to capture the images of lawyers, victims and witnesses as they walk down the hallway. The media will also be restricted to filming within a certain area outside the courthouse.

"These measures should reduce the intimidation that some victims and witnesses may feel," Samour wrote, "and should decrease the risk that victims and witnesses will feel harassed by the media" as they enter and exit the courtroom and the courthouse.

Samour wrote that he recognizes this arrangement isn't what the television stations requested and "may make the broadcast of the proceedings uninteresting for some in the media. However, any interest in making the broadcast more interesting or entertaining, while understandable, is not relevant to the Court's determination."

Both state prosecutors and Holmes's defense attorneys objected to allowing the trial to be broadcast. But Samour dismissed many of their arguments, including that allowing cameras in the courtroom would be more dangerous for victims and witnesses or cause them to change their minds about testifying. This is a high-profile trial, Samour wrote, and it will be covered extensively by the media whether there is video footage or not. There is "no basis," he wrote, to believe that televising the trial "will lead to greater adverse effects than those caused by traditional media coverage of the trial."

The courthouse parking lot was full of satellite trucks for Holmes's first court appearance.
The courthouse parking lot was full of satellite trucks for Holmes's first court appearance.

But Samour wrote that in no way will the trial turn into "a Hollywood set" or a "media circus." In fact, he pointed out that allowing the trial to be broadcast may in fact prevent a circus-like atmosphere. To back up his argument, he pointed to the 2005 Michael Jackson child molestation case; cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, which caused the media to clamor to capture Jackson entering and exiting the courthouse. "One of the most memorable stories of the trial," Samour wrote, "involved photos and video of Jackson arriving at the courthouse very late one day wearing his pajama pants."

At the end of his ruling, Samour emphasized that he can withdraw his permission to broadcast the trial at any time if "a single violation" of his order occurs.

Holmes's trial is set to begin with jury selection on December 8. He's charged with murdering twelve people and injuring seventy more by opening fire in an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. If convicted, Holmes could face the death penalty.

Read Samour's entire ruling below.

Order Re: Requests for Expanded Media Coverage

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

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