James Holmes, accused of killing twelve people and wounding seventy at a July 2012 screening of The Dark Knight Rises at an Aurora theater, has been allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Judge William Sylvester had previously entered a plea of not guilty on Holmes's behalf. At a hearing today, Judge Carlos Samour, who replaced Sylvester in the case earlier this year, granted Holmes permission to change the plea and pursue an insanity defense.
As we've reported, a hearing in late May dealt with a single question: If Holmes, who had indicated that he'd like to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, did not cooperate with a court-ordered mental examination, should he be allowed to call his own expert witnesses to testify about his mental condition at the sentencing hearing in his case?
Holmes's defense attorneys said "yes" and argued that Colorado's insanity-plea laws were unconstitutional. Days later, however, Judge Samour ruled in favor of the laws' constitutionality. That decision set the stage for today's hearing, in which Samour read Holmes an advisement intended to explain to him "the effect and consequences" of entering an insanity plea.
Wearing a red jumpsuit, Holmes, distinguished by a bushy beard and slicked-back hair, had a copy of the advisement and appeared to be following along as Judge Samour read it aloud. Defense attorney Daniel King turned the pages for him, since he was shackled.
The entire advisement is on view below, but here's an excerpt -- the applicable test for determining insanity:
Continue for more about today's hearing in the Aurora theater shooting case, including more photos and a document.
When Judge Samour finished reading the advisement, he asked if the defendant had any questions. The answer was "no."
After accepting the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea, Judge Samour determined that Holmes's mental evaluation would take place at the Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. Judge Samour set a return date for the evaluation of August 2, but noted that if the thus-far unnamed evaluator needs more time, he or she can ask for it.
The evaluator will review discovery in the case prior to meeting with Holmes. The length of the documents was estimated at 40,000 pages. Both the defense and prosecution teams were informed about the evaluator's request to access the discovery by a deputy state attorney general.
Once the plea was accepted, Judge Samour moved on to another topic: a notebook Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist.
We've previously reported that authorities discovered the notebook in the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus mail room three days after the July 20 shooting. It was inside a package addressed to Dr. Lynne Fenton, a CU professor and psychiatrist who had seen Holmes when he was a neuroscience student there. In June, a month before the shooting, Fenton reportedly warned police of Holmes's "homicidal statements" and threatening behavior.
Defense attorney King objected to discussing the notebook at today's hearing, saying that he and his colleagues were unprepared to do so, having been focused on other aspects of the case. However, Judge Samour overruled this objection and ruled that the discussion would take place. King then argued that the information in the package was privileged, despite a statutory waiver related to doctor-client communication that typically kicks in when a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea is entered.
King maintained that because the package never reached Fenton, its contents shouldn't qualify for the waiver. "Dr. Fenton never saw it and never used it as part of her treatment diagnosis or otherwise," he said.
Prosecutor Karen Pearson disagreed. She suggested that the defense wanted to have it both ways, even though "the statute is automatic and mandatory." The prosecution wants to see the notebook, she maintained, to get a more complete sense of the defendant.
After a break of approximately twenty minutes, Judge Samour sided with Pearson, He called King's argument creative, but concluded that "I'm not persuaded by it." In his view, the law refers to any communication in the course of her job. For that reason, he determined that even if the package is privileged information, that privilege had been waived once the insanity plea was entered. He ordered the package and the notebook to be released to the prosecution on Monday, June 10.
Here's the advisement read to Holmes at today's hearing. And continue for more photos.
Continue for more photos from today's hearing.
More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Judge rules that insanity plea laws are constitutional."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.