CENTENNIAL, Colo.—The case against James Holmes takes a pivotal turn Tuesday when he is finally ordered to answer to the murder charges against him.
His court-appointed defense attorneys have said the 25-year-old is mentally ill. It is believed he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Twelve people were killed and 71 wounded last July when a gunman opened fire inside a packed premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
The former University of Colorado neuroscience student was arrested behind the theater minutes after the massacre. He was clad in combat gear and had weapons nearby.
Holmes faces multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. After Tuesday’s arraignment, the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office has 60 days to determine whether it will seek the death penalty.
In a notice posted to the court’s website on Monday, Judge William Sylvester advised Holmes that the legal definition of insanity applies to someone “who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act.”
However, Sylvester also noted, an insane person should not be confused with someone who has “moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions.”
At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing in January, prosecutors declared they had presented overwhelming evidence that Holmes meticulously planned and executed the attack without remorse.
“Because he wanted to kill all of them, and he knew what he was doing,” prosecutor Karen Pearson said.
Whether Holmes is diseased or defective in mind (as the defense has implied it will argue) or is a mass murderer fueled by anger and bent on revenge (as the prosecution has alleged) is central to the case.
Holmes’ mental state has been the crux of his attorneys’ arguments. Starting with his first court appearance in July and in numerous hearings since, they devoted the bulk of their arguments to his relationship with his university psychiatrist, a notebook he sent her shortly before the shooting and when Holmes’ treatment with his psychiatrist ended. Those details, they said, only began to examine the depths of Holmes’ mental illness.
The prosecution, meanwhile, has repeatedly sought information apparently unrelated to Holmes’ mental state—his grades, school emails, admission applications, his purchases of ammunition, gas masks, grenades and body armor—to show that Holmes concocted what they call a “detailed and complex” plan to slaughter movie patrons at the Aurora multiplex, just east of Denver.
Throughout the fall, the defense repeatedly labeled that strategy a “fishing expedition,” and they asked Sylvester to quash the prosecution’s efforts to unearth more information about Holmes. During hearings, the defense also continually objected to the prosecution gathering details about Holmes’ specific conversations with and notes sent to Dr. Lynne Fenton, his psychiatrist, saying it would violate his right to a fair trial.
However, in his advisement to the defense on Monday, Sylvester said Holmes has waived his right to keep confidential any discussions, examinations or evidence concerning his mental state. “By pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and placing your mental condition at issue … you waive any confidentiality or privilege,” the judge wrote.
Further, Sylvester said psychiatrists examining Holmes after his insanity plea may “conduct a narcoanalytic interview,” meaning they could use drugs during the examination. The judge also advised Holmes that a polygraph could be administered.
Tuesday’s much-anticipated arraignment will come as a relief to victims and their families, who have been frustrated by months of legal wrangling.
“Rot in hell, Holmes,” Steve Hernandez blurted out moments after the arraignment was delayed in January. Hernandez’s daughter, Rebecca Wingo, was one of the dozen people killed.
Story contributed by Yahoo News