James Holmes Hearing: Judge Orders Trial, But Insanity Debate Begins

A Colorado judge has ordered accused mass killer James Eagan Holmes to stand trial for his July 2012 theater rampage in Aurora, Colo. — but the wheels of justice, now beginning to turn, will move slowly.

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Photo by Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

In this photo provided by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, James Holmes poses for a booking photo September 20, 2012 in Centennial, Colorado.

A Colorado judge has ordered accused mass killer James Eagan Holmes to stand trial for his July 2012 theater rampage in Aurora, Colo. — but the wheels of justice, now beginning to turn, will move slowly.

On Thursday, Arapahoe County Judge William Sylvester ruled that Holmes will face a jury on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes, in an attack that killed 12 people and wounded 58 at a July 20 midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. But less than a day later, Sylvester postponed Holmes’ arraignment until March 12, in order to give the prosecution and defense enough time to properly prepare for the case; the judge is expected to hand down formal charges on Friday.

(MORE: James Holmes Hearing: Prosecution Finishes, No Defense Argument; Judge Expected to Decide on Trial Friday)

Angry family members protested inside the courtroom while prosecutors argued they were ready to proceed with the arraignment immediately. The delay gives Holmes’ lawyers more time to prepare what will likely be an insanity plea and defense. If so the high-profile trial, which some are comparing to that of Tuscon, Ariz., shooter Jared Lee Loughner, will bring debates over the definition of criminal insanity into play. Any eventual jury in this case will have to decide if Holmes was in his right mind as the tragedy unfolded, and if his actions — which included the use of a small arsenal of weapons and explosives — were calculated and premeditated.

“In this case it’s clear that the prosecution has a very heavy burden,” says Barry Slotnick, the New York defense attorney who represented the so-called “Subway Vigilante” Bernhard Goetz in a famous 1986 shooting trial. “The jury is going to be told by the defense that he had no understanding of the nature of his acts and that he was absolutely beyond being a reasonable human being.”

(MORE: James Holmes Hearing: FBI Expert Gives Details on Aurora Shooter’s Booby-Trapped Apartment)

The death penalty has been discussed in the Aurora case ever since Holmes’ arrest, but prosecutors have not said whether or not they will pursue it, citing a number of factors including taking into account the feelings of victims’ families. Executions are legal in Colorado, though rare; only one person has been put to death since the state reesstablished capital punishment in 1976. Slotnick said that prosecutors could possibly opt against pursuing execution and instead try to get a life sentence rather than risk the defense winning on an insanity plea.

However, an insanity plea might be difficult to defend as well. No mass murder case in recent history has been successfully defended on such a plea, says Michael Perlin, director of the Mental Disability Law Program at New York Law School. What is important is whether  Holmes is competent — and can remain competent — to undergo a trial. “It has nothing to do with guilt or innocence, it has to do with whether he can participate,” said Perlin, noting that Colorado law states that a defendant must be found competent before he can even enter an insanity plea. “If you plead insanity, you have conceded that you have done the act, but ‘I did it because I was defending the Klingon Empire’ or something of that nature.”

The case now becomes more complex as both sides take the next two months to prepare for an arraignment. Either the prosecutors or defense lawyers may argue to the judge that Holmes is not mentally capable of understanding his circumstances and cannot help his own defense. In that instance, Sylvester could order a mental evaluation and ultimately rule that Holmes is, in fact, incompetent to stand trial. If the judge finds that Holmes can face a jury, however, then he is expected to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest at his March arraignment. Subsequent proceedings — including picking a jury to hear the case — could, like Loughner’s, take months or even years to play out, particularly if the prosecution decides to pursue the death penalty.

Either way, James Eagan Holmes likely won’t walk free again regardless of the verdict. Even if he is found to be not guilty by reason of mentally illness, he will almost certainly be institutionalized. “The fact of the matter is that if he’s acquitted of murder by reason of insanity, it doesn’t mean he goes home,” Slotnick says. “It means he goes into an institution.”

 
23 comments
ClydeBarrow
ClydeBarrow

Back in the day of Abraham Lincoln this guy would have hanged. We've gotten too soft in this country. Didn't police inspector named Harry Callahan warn us of this happening?

DaveFerraro
DaveFerraro like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I don't care what his mental state was, I don't care if he was abused, I don't even care if he knew what he was doing or not. None of that changes the fact that he murdered all of those people in cold blood, and that's all that matters. He no longer deserves to breath the same air as the rest of us and needs to be put down like the animal that he is, quickly. 

EmileighHigdon
EmileighHigdon

@DaveFerraro 

Sooo... if he didn't even know what he was doing than how could you possibly follow that with "he murdered all those people in cold blood" ?

And James is a person, not an animal.

JimFowler
JimFowler

@EmileighHigdon First off with all of his per-medidated planning he knew exactly what he was doing. He also warned the cops about the apartment booby traps probably because he knew if he killed a couple of his captors he would pay dearly under their control. When his arse was on the line he could think, Right? Where is any depth of thought in your mind. This whole country is becoming unglued at the seems due to the lack of basic common sense from many. The defense attorneys look for the clueless of thought for the jury. I hope your no where near.

DaveFerraro
DaveFerraro like.author.displayName 1 Like

@EmileighHigdon @DaveFerraro You don't spend the amount of time he obviously spent planning this massacre if you don't know what you're doing. He methodically planned and carried out this attack and shot 70 people, killing 12 in cold blood. Period. His attorneys are doing nothing more than trying to manipulate the system with this ridiculous i"insanity" defense. 

And no, he is an animal. A person doesn't murder 12 people. How dare you sympathize with a murdering scumbag like him.  

BuckHuit
BuckHuit

One of the aspects that seems to cause some disagreement is the difference between

an "organic disorder" and a "functional disorder."

When a professional football player, after suffering years of brain trauma, kills or commits suicide

society seems to have some compassion for the individual since there MAY BE an "organic" cause.

However, functional disorders don't get the same understanding nod from society,

as though the diseased individual wasn't practicing proper mental hygiene.

BuckHuit
BuckHuit

I think a life sentence in prison is "cruel and unusual."

For that matter, a 10 year prison sentence is cruel and unusual.

In my opinion the death penalty is more humane and really the only feasible way of handling these bad robots.

The 2 pronged test for insanity:

1)  Was the accused capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his/her conduct?  (I recall one female mass shooter)

2)  Was the accused capable of conforming his/her actions to societal norms?  (command hallucinations and stuff like that)

It's clear that James Holmes took a lot of effort to conceal his preparations so he probably knew his actions were criminal.

The big question is whether Holmes was able to control his behavior.

Police reported Holmes was relaxed and at ease at the time of his arrest.

But the "mask of sanity" or "flat affect" can be evidence of a psychotic state.

I'm in favor of the death penalty but the problem is that a lot of deeply troubled individuals

will refuse to seek treatment if they can be locked up for their thoughts or put to death for what the might do.

lonelygazer
lonelygazer

@BuckHuit u are probably stepped too much into philosofy, the indiviials should seek the treatment, because they are going to be executed for killing someone, nothing to do with thoughts

PlantDoctor
PlantDoctor

@BuckHuit He was a collage student studying to help "crazy people". He would know how to act like one

BuckHuit
BuckHuit

The university psychiatrist did alert campus police of the potential threat.

But James Holmes dropped out of school and the university's attitude was "Never mind."

Legally, the university psychiatrist may be off the hook but ethically and morally she dropped the ball.

Even with a forced 72 hour period of observation it's not clear if James Holmes could have been held.

And this could have been worse.  James Holmes booby-trapped his apartment in an apparent attempt

to create a diversion, that is, a police emergency that would have delayed the police response to the movie theater.

Had James Holmes barricaded the emergency exits in the theater he could have killed more.

Rampage killers like James Holmes and Adam Lanza are learning much more quickly than society is preparing.

nesha
nesha

When are they going to arrest the school psychologist who let this animal continue on without getting him put in the observation tank? She should lose her license at a minimum for  dereliction of her duties and obligations.

JonGibson
JonGibson

Anyone caught in the act of murdering anyone, whether they're crazy/insane or not, should be put to death, post haste.

Circumstantial evidence should never carry the possibility of the death penalty.

livefortodayok
livefortodayok like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ah, so James Holmes doesn't even need to go to trial, since he is all ready being publically flogged in the media? Same ol' scenario...Shooting tragedy, lone gunman, crazy picture posted on the AP and all over the media, gunman is either shot, commits suicide or committed so we, the people will never, ever know the truth...buried at sea, so to speak.  Is that the new normal?

damthis2
damthis2

@livefortodayok  So I guess you'd let him go with a slap on the wrist huh? Sure he deserves a fair trial,but an insanity plea is not warranted. Just because a person might be off their rocker is no excuse to let them get away with murder.

jesseobscure
jesseobscure

@damthis2 @livefortodayok  You completely missed the point livefortodayok was making, you only have the opinion on this subject that you do because its what was given to you


arvinmundo
arvinmundo like.author.displayName 1 Like

How could someone like this fckg coward  who planned out his massacre, booby trapped his house/apt, and even impressed the bombsquad in the setup of his booby trap, and trying to study neuroscience, be a frkn insane - looney? He just not want to answer for his crime! He is very lucky he is here in our great country of USA. If he was in another country, which I will not say, he'll be taken out of jail without question and chopped up! F U Holmes!

BuckHuit
BuckHuit

Insanity, legal or otherwise, doesn't necessarily mean stupid.

The mentally retarded are more likely to be mentally ill but the reasons are obvious.

There was a PhD chemist working at a hospital that went home and stabbed his young son to death with a screwdriver.

The chemist spent some time in a forensic medical lock-up but was release when he was no longer considered

to be a threat to himself or others.

I imagine all of his neighbors are still sleeping with one eye open.

Sean_C2
Sean_C2

@arvinmundo The insane can do all of those things.

I don't know whether he is insane, but mental illness doesn't automatically mean you act like a gibbering moron.

damthis2
damthis2

In my personal opinion,The insanity plea is BS. A crazy person can kill just like anyone else and should face the same penalty No time in a mental institution, he should get either prison or the death penalty. I vote for the death penalty.

Sean_C2
Sean_C2

@damthis2 And thus you completely miss the point of the penal system.  A genuinely insane person  cannot be held responsible for his/her actions, and they did not make decisions of sound mind, and putting them in prison instead of a jail would be cruel and unusual punishment.