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Death penalty sought for Colorado theatre massacre

Prosecutors say they are seeking the death penalty against James Holmes, accused gunman of the Colorado theatre massacre.

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Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against James Holmes, accused of opening fire in a Colorado movie theatre in July and killing 12 people.

The Arapahoe County district attorney's office told Judge William Sylvester of their decision on Monday at a hearing that lasted two minutes in state court in Centennial, in suburban Denver.

"For James Eagan Holmes, justice is death," District Attorney George Brauchler said. Mr Brauchler told the judge members of his office talked to more than 800 victims and family members in the case, and that he personally spoke with 60 victims. He said the law requires him to be a "minister of justice."

Aurora Police Detective Matthew Ingui is pictured  in a courtroom sketch pointing out victims' locations in the movie theater while testifying in Centennial, Colorado, earlier this year.

Aurora Police Detective Matthew Ingui is pictured in a courtroom sketch pointing out victims' locations in the movie theater while testifying in Centennial, Colorado, earlier this year. Photo: Reuters

Prosecutors last week rejected an offer from Mr Holmes to plead guilty and spend his life in prison without any chance of parole in exchange for sparing him from the death penalty.

Justice Sylvester entered a not guilty plea at Mr Holmes's arraignment on March 12 because Daniel King of the Colorado public defender's office told the judge that Mr Holmes wasn't ready to plead. Previously, Mr Holmes's lawyers said they were considering an insanity plea.

Mr Holmes, with bushy hair and a long beard, wore a red jumpsuit today and glanced in the direction of his parents as he was escorted into the courtroom.

Case reassigned

Justice Sylvester today reassigned the case to Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., who rescheduled the trial for February 3 from August 5, saying it will last four months. Mr Holmes's lawyers sought a trial date in the summer or fall of 2014, arguing it will last nine months.

"They are trying to execute our client and we will do what we need to do to save his life," defence attorney Tamara Brady said during the debate over scheduling, adding later that the case is "the most important matter this court, this courthouse, will ever hear."

Justice Sylvester ruled in January that the government established probable cause that Mr Holmes committed the crimes of which he's accused -- killing 12 people and injuring 70. Mr Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

Offer rejected

"Prosecutors in this state have rarely sought the death penalty and have reserved this sentence for the cases they have considered to be the worst of the worst," Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, said. "Most people would probably agree that this case constitutes the worst of the worst."

Prosecutors rejected Mr Holmes's offer to plead guilty because, they said in a court filing, his attorneys have "steadfastly and repeatedly" refused to provide information required to consider the offer. Mr Brauchler didn't specify in the filing what information his office was seeking.

Mr Holmes will probably be the first defendant in a Colorado capital-punishment case to challenge the constitutionality of the state's insanity-defense laws, Mr Steinhauser said, and such a challenge will delay a trial.

Public defenders have already objected to a provision blocking Mr Holmes from calling witnesses to present evidence about his mental condition if he doesn't cooperate with court- appointed psychiatrists. Under Colorado law, psychiatrists are permitted to require Mr Holmes to submit to interviews under the influence of a so-called truth serum, according to Mr Steinhauser.

Justice Sylvester ruled March 11 that prosecutors may require Mr Holmes to submit to a "narcoanalytic interview" under the influence of "medically appropriate" drugs. Such drugs can enable a person to recall something they're having difficulty remembering, Mr Steinhauser said.

Bloomberg