The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 12, 2013

Long-awaited plea is near in Colorado theater shooting



CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — In the nearly eight months since James Holmes first shuffled into court with vacant eyes and reddish-orange hair, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead to charges from the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting.

There have been plenty of hints, however. As his hair turned more natural-looking and his demeanor more even at court hearings, Holmes' lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last fall, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.

If, as many expect, they enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf Tuesday, it will clarify the court battle ahead: Was Holmes, 25, legally insane — unable to tell right from wrong — at the time of the shootings?

Pleading insanity could be the only way he can avoid life in prison or execution, given the evidence that has emerged so far, some legal experts said.

Prosecutors laid out a case that Holmes methodically planned the shooting for months, amassing an arsenal and elaborately booby-trapping his apartment to kill anyone who tried to enter. On the night of the attack, they say, he donned a police-style helmet, gas mask and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the seats and then opened fire.

The attack killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

"This is not a whodunit," criminal defense attorney Dan Recht said in January. He is not involved in the case.

Holmes is charged with 166 counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 assault on moviegoers at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, a Denver suburb.

If a jury agrees he was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. There would be a remote and unlikely chance he could be freed one day if doctors find his sanity has been restored.

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