The judge in the Colorado cinema shooting case entered a not guilty plea on behalf of James Holmes yesterday after the former graduate student’s defence team said he was not ready to enter one.
If Holmes is convicted, he could be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Judge William Sylvester said Holmes, aged 25, later can change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity if he wishes. Such a change could be the only way Holmes could avoid life in prison or execution.
Prosecutors, for their part, have not yet said whether they will pursue the death penalty, yesterday announcing that they will make their decision known on Apr 1.
Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in the Jul 20 attack at a suburban Denver cinema that killed 12 people and injured 70.
In the nearly eight months since Holmes first shuffled into court, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead.
Holmes’s lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last autumn, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.
That raised the possibility they could end up entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes’s lawyers, however, said they were not ready to enter a plea.
The plea carries risk. Prosecutors would gain access to Holmes’s mental health records, which could help their case if the evidence of insanity is weak.
If Holmes does plead insanity, the proceedings would be prolonged further while he is evaluated by state mental health officials. With the judge entering the plea, prosecutors would not have access to Holmes’s health records.
During the hearing, Daniel King, defending, said he could not advise Holmes on what plea to enter. He said the defence was not ready despite previous delays — prompting prosecutors to object.
The judge asked King when Holmes might be ready to enter a plea. “We could be ready by May 1. It may be Jun 1,” King said.
“So how am I supposed to make an informed decision?” Sylvester asked, before entering the not guilty plea.
At one point, in saying they were not ready to enter a plea, King said: “We have ongoing work scheduled. We’re doing the best that we can.” But he said he couldn’t reveal what the work was or when it would be finished.
Holmes faces 166 charges, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the assault on moviegoers at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora.
The judge set Aug 5 for the start of the trial.
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