Aurora Theater Shooting

James Holmes trial jury selection will be open to the public and media, judge rules

The public, and the media, will be allowed to attend jury selection in the trial of accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. Attorneys in the case requested that the proceedings be closed to the public, but Judge Carlos Samour ruled this week that the selection process will be open. It is scheduled to begin in October.

"Sunshine, not darkness, is the appropriate disinfectant here," Samour wrote.

Holmes is accused of murdering twelve people and injuring seventy more by opening fire at the Aurora Century 16 movie theater on July 20, 2012. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Holmes's attorneys requested that jury selection for his trial be closed to the public. They argued that the presence of the media at the proceedings would "overwhelm and intimidate" prospective jurors and make them hesitant to honestly discuss their views on the death penalty, the insanity defense and their knowledge and opinions of the high-profile case. At a hearing on May 29, prosecutors agreed, saying they too wanted to close individual questioning of prospective jurors -- known as voir dire -- to the public.

Samour, however, disagrees. "Rather than hinder the effectiveness of jury selection," he wrote in his ruling (on view below), "openness and the watchful eye of the media will increase scrutiny and enhance the reliability and fairness of the process.

"If the parties' doomsday prediction -- that openness will overwhelm and intimidate prospective jurors so as to inhibit their candor -- were sufficient," he continued, "trial courts would be required to close jury selection in every high-profile case.

"That is not the law."

But Samour will take precautions to shield prospective jurors' identities and their personal information from the public and the media, he wrote. "The Court is confident that by keeping the juror questionnaires confidential and referring to prospective jurors and seated jurors by number throughout the trial," he added, "it will avoid the concerns expressed by the parties regarding prospective jurors' candor."

He also noted that the many victims in the case have a right to attend the proceedings -- which is a reason to keep them open to the public.

In a footnote to his order, Samour laid out how the jury selection process will work. He wrote that 6,000 Arapahoe County citizens will be summoned, of whom he expects 3,300 to show up. They will be asked to report to an "introductory jury selection session" in groups of 150, at which Samour will make welcoming remarks, introduce the attorneys, "generally discuss the case and the charges" and explain the logistics of jury selection, among other topics. The prospective jurors will fill out questionnaires -- and based on their answers, they'll either be released or asked to come back and answer questions on four topics: the death penalty, the insanity defense, publicity and hardship.

Samour wrote that he hopes to find 100 to 120 people who could potentially serve on the jury and then have them back for a group questioning session, at which a total of 24 people -- twelve jurors and twelve alternates -- will be chosen.

Read Samour's entire order below.

Order Re: Request to Close Jury Selection to Public

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes hearing: Jury selection could take months."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar