Opening statements begin in Colorado theater shooting trial

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Attorneys in the case of Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes began giving opening statements Monday, marking the start of a long-awaited trial that is expected to take months and include emotionally wrenching testimony.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 when he opened fire at a midnight showing of a Batman movie in suburban Denver. The July 20, 2012, mass shooting was one of America's deadliest.

The death penalty trial hinges not on whether Holmes was responsible but what was going on in his mind at the time.

His attorneys say he was in the grips of a psychotic episode and could not tell right from wrong when he went on the rampage.

But prosecutors allege Holmes planned the violence for months, amassing an arsenal that included a rifle, a shotgun, two pistols, tear gas canisters and body armor. They say he also stockpiled chemicals to rig his 800-square-foot apartment into a booby trap that could have caused more carnage.

Unlike in most states, Colorado puts the burden on prosecutors to persuade jurors that Holmes was sane.

Each side is allowed two hours Monday for opening statements. Prosecutors were first to begin laying out their case.

Earlier in the hearing, Holmes sat still and appeared calm as the judge instructed jurors.

The trial comes after 2½ years of complicated legal questions related to the death penalty and the insanity plea, and after nearly three months of jury selection. It is expected to last at least four months, with days upon days of emotional testimony from victims and survivors.

Victims in the shooting at the Century 16 movie theater include a 6-year-old girl, two active-duty servicemen, a single mom, a man celebrating his 27th birthday and an aspiring broadcaster who survived a Toronto mall shooting. Several people died shielding friends and loved ones.

A key factor in the jury's decision could be two mental health evaluations of Holmes. Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ordered the second exam after prosecutors said the first one was biased. Defense attorneys have objected to the second test's results.

Like many other details, the results of both evaluations have been kept from public view. Also secret is the list of people expected to testify.