James Holmes's attorneys ask judge to move theater shooting trial out of Arapahoe County
Should the trial of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes be held in Arapahoe County, where the crime occurred? No, say Holmes's attorneys. In a motion made public this week (and on view below), they request a change of venue, arguing that the citizens of Arapahoe County have a "unique and tangible connection to this case" that would make it difficult for them to be impartial. In addition, Holmes's attorneys say, the "massive, pervasive and prejudicial" media coverage of the case -- much of it focused on the suffering of the victims -- has tainted the jury pool.
"The pretrial news coverage has been at best consistent and comprehensive," Holmes's attorneys write in the motion. "At worst, the media has been incessant and unrelenting."
An analysis by Dr. Bryan Edelman, a trial consultant with the California-based firm Trial Innovations, found that between the date of the theater shooting -- July 20, 2012 -- and November 9, 2013, the Denver Post printed 896 articles that referenced the shooting. Many of the stories, Edelman found, focused on the victims and their families. The same was true for television station 9News and the weekly Aurora Sentinel.
"In covering the good and courageous things the victims have done," Holmes's attorneys write in the motion, "the coverage often simplistically and inaccurately implied that Mr. Holmes was 'evil,' as opposed to mentally ill."
Holmes is accused of killing twelve people and injuring seventy more by opening fire during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora Century 16 theater. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial is scheduled to begin in October.
James Holmes and public defender Daniel King in court in June 2013.
Andy Cross/Denver Post
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The defense's motion also takes a close look at the Aurora Sentinel's coverage. Holmes's attorneys note that the Sentinel posted about 600 stories online between July 20, 2012 and March 31, 2014, and ran more than 215 stories in print. The paper even has a special tab on its website called, "MASSACRE COVERAGE," the attorneys point out.
The media coverage has been in-depth, Holmes's attorneys argue, including "graphic and sensational firsthand accounts" of the crime and "blow-by-blow" reporting of the preliminary hearing, at which the prosecution presented some of its evidence. And they don't like how Holmes -- or his defense -- has been portrayed.
"On numerous occasions, the legitimate defense of insanity was not described as such," they write. "Rather, it was described as Mr. Holmes's 'best hope of avoiding the death penalty, and possibly his only hope, given the weight of the evidence.'"
Continue for more on Holmes's motion for a change of venue. Holmes's attorneys also point out that the media has published the opinions of victims and family members who believe that Holmes is "not crazy" and deserves the death penalty. The motion even quotes from anti-Holmes comments left by readers, including this one: "What a total waste of resources and time! This moron is guilty!"
As proof that the media coverage is having a prejudicial effect, Holmes's lawyers point to the recent retrial of Edward Montour, who was facing the death penalty for murdering a prison guard but ended up pleading guilty in exchange for life in prison. During jury selection in Douglas County, they write, the potential "jurors frequently pointed toward Mr. Holmes as an example of a criminal defendant that should be put to death. Jurors from a neighboring county were able to identify specific facts regarding Mr. Holmes's case and cited many of those facts as reasons that would justify killing him."
The Century theater in Aurora, where the shooting took place, has been remodeled.
But the people whom the theater shooting has impacted most directly are the citizens of Arapahoe County, Holmes's attorneys argue. An incredible 2,600 of the witnesses in the case live or work in the county -- and those witnesses have friends and family members who "will likely have heard, seen and been involved in the impact of this case on those endorsed witnesses," the attorneys write. The crime not only touched the police and hospital staff who responded, they argue, but also the children and adults of the Aurora public school system and the taxpayers who've had to pay for the city's recovery efforts. There are physical reminders of the crime, too, they note, including the reopened theater.
"The people of Arapahoe County have lived this case differently than those of any other county in Colorado," the attorneys write. "They have closer ties and associations with the victims and all who were involved in the aftermath of this case. In fact, July 20, 2012 is a day by which the citizens of Arapahoe County will measure time. It is thus sensible that they would hold stronger opinions and feel stronger emotions with regard to the facts of this case, the defense of insanity and the appropriate punishment.
"Given their unique attachment to this case, the salience of the prejudicial media coverage is stronger in Arapahoe County. This will have an undeniable impact on the ability to empanel a fair and impartial jury in this jurisdiction."