Details emerge about jury picked for Colorado theater shooting trial

Jason Sickles, Yahoo
Twelve jurors and 12 alternates have been decided on in Colorado v. James Holmes. Opening statements in the murder trial are scheduled for April 27. (Photo: AP)

The State of Colorado v. James Holmes finally has a jury: 19 women, five men and a host of potential concerns.

At least two of the 12 jurors and 12 alternates reportedly have ties to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, including a man who was a student there at the time. The man, known only as Juror No. 737, fled the building safely, but was childhood friends with the gunmen and went to prom with a victim.

The niece of Juror No. 535 is also a Columbine survivor, according to Fox 31 in Denver. The woman's niece escaped physical injury, but was in the cafeteria that the killers tried to bomb.

Both jurors were handpicked from a pool of thousands to decide if Holmes is guilty in the Colorado movie theater rampage that left 12 people dead and 70 others wounded in 2012.

The three-month selection process involved summonsing 9,000 candidates, the largest jury summons in U.S. history.

The 12 who were killed at the movie theater. Click image to open gallery. Top (L to R): Matt McQuinn, Alex Teves, Micayla Medek, Jesse Childress, Jon Blunk, Jessica Ghawi. Bottom (L to R): AJ Boik, John Larimer, Alex Sullivan, Gordon Cowden, Rebecca Wingo, and Veronica Moser-Sullivan. (Photo combination by Yahoo News, AP Photos)

Until the very end, Holmes’ lawyers argued that prospective jurors would be too sympathetic to survivors. Defense attorney Tamara Brady said she was nervous “about whether Mr. Holmes can get a fair trial in this case or whether it’s just too big.”

Last month, Judge Carlos Samour ruled against a request to move the trial. That’s when he also approved Juror No. 737 to continue in the jury pool after the man said he could be impartial. After a “decade of therapy to get over [the shooting]” and after giving it “tons” of thought, he told Samour that his experience at Columbine might make him a better juror.

“If I was helping the defense, I would be concerned about that juror,” Robert B. Hirschhorn, a veteran jury and trial consultant, told Yahoo News via email. “He has been the victim of a horrific trauma, and this case would likely revictimize him. [Post-traumatic stress disorder] is a very realistic possibility with that juror.”

According to a list published by the Denver Post, Juror No. 118 has also seen mental illness up close. She told the court that her son-in-law, a prison guard and Iraq war veteran, suffers from PTSD. “I think mental illness is a fact of life,” she said. “A lot of us have been touched by it.”

The panel also includes a special education teacher, a gas station attendant and a plumber who said during jury questioning that because of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she knows “what it’s like to be a little bit different from other people.”

Presumably, Hirschhorn said, the judge and both counsels addressed all juror concerns before settling on the final 24.

“Every jury in every high profile case inevitably has issues,” Hirschhorn said. “I do not think these issues rise to the level of the judge having to declare a mistrial or a reversal on appeal.”

While the entire panel will attend the trial, only the judge and attorneys will know the identities of the primary jurors until they begin deliberations.

Opening arguments are scheduled for the afternoon of April 27, nearly three years after Holmes terrorized a packed Denver-area theater with guns and tear gas during a midnight screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Crosses, flowers and other mementos of the victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting are shown at sunrise a week after the tragedy. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His defense team argues the former neuroscience graduate student was in the throes of a psychotic episode when he snuck into the theater and opened fire.

If the jury determines Holmes was insane, he would be acquitted and sent indefinitely to a state mental hospital. But if they find that he was sane, he could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Hirschhorn’s work as a jury consultant helped George Zimmerman in 2013 and Robert Durst in 2003 win acquittals in their murder trials. He has no ties to the theater shooting case, but told Yahoo News that the panel of 19 women and five men could favor Holmes.

“As a general rule, women are less likely to vote for the death penalty than men. This is true even when there are children or young adults as victims,” Hirschhorn said in an email. “Women tend to go to doctors more often than men and will listen and believe what doctors have to say. Therefore, women are more open to the NGI (not guilty by reason of insanity) defense.”

Hirschhorn said things could get interesting if Juror No. 17, a female lawyer and businesswoman, in Seat 2 is not an alternate.

“If [she] ends up deliberating, she will be a powerful and driving force on the jury,” he said. “If a lawyer is a juror, most of the times the other jurors will want the lawyer to be the foreperson. If the defense read on her was correct, they will save their client’s life. On the other hand, if the defense has read her wrong, their client will pay the ultimate price for their mistake.”

Holmes is charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and associated offenses in what is considered to be one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The trial is expected to last four to five months.

According to the Denver Post, a retired longtime Army nurse who was selected to the jury was asked if she could handle balancing the case’s many charges and challenges.

“How do you eat an elephant?” she replied. “One bite at a time.”

(This story has been updated since it originally published. With reporting from The Associated Press.)

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).