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James Holmes's attorneys offer not guilty by insanity plea, judge isn't ready to accept it

Late last month, a court document suggested that the attorneys representing accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes wished to enter a not-guity-by-reason-of-insanity plea on his behalf.

At a hearing today, the defense team formally did so in the case, which involves the murder of twelve people and the wounding of seventy others at a midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises on July 20, 2012. However, Judge Carlos Samour has not yet accepted the plea. His decision will come at month's end.

Judge William Sylvester, who previously oversaw the case, entered a not guilty plea on Holmes's behalf this past March over the objections of his attorneys. As we've reported, Holmes's attorneys argued that they weren't ready to enter a plea because they still had questions about, among other things, how a mental evaluation of their client could be used against him in a death-penalty proceeding. At a hearing in March, defense attorney Daniel King said Holmes's representatives had retained experts who were working on his behalf and making progress, but hadn't yet completed their tasks.

There has also been confusion over the advisement that Holmes would receive should he be allowed to change his plea from "not guilty" to "not guilty by reason of insanity."

We've previously noted that the advisement explains the ramifications of such a plea, including that Holmes would be required to cooperate with a court-ordered mental examination. If he does not cooperate, the advisement states that he would not be allowed to call his own psychiatrists at trial to present mitigating evidence about his mental condition. Holmes's attorneys have repeatedly stated that the 25-year-old "suffers from a serious mental illness."

At today's hearing, prosecutors expressed displeasure that Holmes's team has not yet settled on a plea. "Our largest frustration is the amount of time it's taken to get to this point," stated one of the prosecutors, Jacob Edson.

However, Edson also acknowledged that there are close to 40,000 pages of discovery in the case. And while he stressed that it is up to Judge Samour whether or not he accepts the plea, he revealed the results of an informal poll in which victims were asked their views about a change of plea being allowed. Edson said nineteen victims objected to the judge accepting the change of plea, three victims had no position on the matter, and six victims did not object to the judge accepting a change of plea.

Continue for more about today's hearing in the Aurora theater shooting case.   Nonetheless, attorney Daniel King, representing Holmes, tendered a not guilty by reason of insanity plea for him at today's hearing. He revealed that a mental evaluation on Holmes by the defense team's experts has been completed. "We now have a diagnosis," he said.

Holmes defense attorney Daniel King.
Holmes defense attorney Daniel King.
Photo by Sam Levin

King didn't share the nature of the diagnosis, but he emphasized that it allowed the defense to enter the not guilty by reason of insanity plea in good faith. He added that Holmes's attorneys couldn't do so in March because they simply weren't ready yet. But he rejected any allegations of delay.

"We hit the ground running with regard to these mental-health issues," King said.

In reply to King's presentation, Judge Samour said that "based on the record made here by Mr. King, good cause has been shown" to justify changing the plea. But he did not immediately accept the plea change because of the questions about the advisement.

Between now and 2 p.m. on May 31, the scheduled time of the next hearing, the prosecution will have the opportunity to respond to defense objections about the advisement, and the defense will be able to react to those responses. Then, at the hearing, Judge Samour will rule on the advisement and give it to Holmes. Once the judge feels Holmes is sufficiently advised, he'll decide in court whether to accept the plea change.

Continue to read several previous documents, including Judge William Sylvester's advisement to Holmes, his ruling on the constitutionality of the state's insanity defense laws, Holmes's request to preserve a Denver Health video and Sylvester's order granting the request.  

Order Regarding Advisement on Plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Order Re: Defense Motions

Motion for Order to Arapahoe County Sheriffs Office

Order Regarding Motion for Order to Arapahoe County Sheriffs Office 2

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Judge delays hearing about Fox News information 'leak.'"

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

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