Theater shooting trial postponed over sanity issue

Associated Press
FILE -This June 4, 2013 file photo shows Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo. Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case are battling over what evidence can be admitted during Holmes’ murder trial, all in an attempt to build up or tear down the case that he was insane. On Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 they are scheduled to argue over statements Holmes made to police after he was arrested after the July 2012 shootings and taken to a police station. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool, File)
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FILE -This June 4, 2013 file photo shows Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo. Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case are battling over what evidence can be admitted during Holmes’ murder trial, all in an attempt to build up or tear down the case that he was insane. On Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 they are scheduled to argue over statements Holmes made to police after he was arrested after the July 2012 shootings and taken to a police station. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool, File)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes' trial for the Colorado theater shootings was postponed indefinitely to give both sides time to argue over the prosecution's request that he undergo more psychiatric evaluation.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 at an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. His attorneys have acknowledged he was the shooter but said he was "in the throes of a psychotic episode."

Holmes underwent a mandatory sanity evaluation at the state hospital last summer. The results haven't been made public, but prosecutors said at a hearing on Thursday they want a review of one of three conclusions. They did not elaborate.

Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. postponed the trial indefinitely, ordered both sides to submit written arguments on further psychiatric evaluation, and tentatively scheduled hearings for Dec. 17 and 18.

Karen Steinhauser, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said most court-ordered sanity evaluations look at whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial; has an impaired mental condition or mental illness; and was insane at the time of the crime.

Steinhauser, who is not involved in the Holmes case, said the prosecution's request for further evaluation might indicate that Holmes was found sane but with an impaired mental condition.

If that is the case, it could be tough for prosecutors to convince a jury to convict him of murder and sentence him to death because of the difficulty in making a distinction between mental illness and insanity. Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to tell right from wrong.

Longtime Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said he is not aware of a Colorado judge ever granting a prosecution request for a second sanity evaluation.

If jurors were to find that Holmes was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to the state hospital. He could one day be released if doctors ever concluded his sanity had been restored, but that is considered unlikely.

Law enforcement officers have testified that Holmes planned the attack for months, stockpiling guns and ammunition. They also say he elaborately booby-trapped his apartment with bombs designed to explode and divert police and fire crews from the theater.

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