CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — After nearly three months, the judge in the Colorado theater shooting case came one step closer Friday to finding a jury for the death penalty trial, as attorneys finished individually questioning candidates about their views on capital punishment and mental illness.
Starting Monday, 115 prospective jurors will return to court for a final round of questioning, this time as a group. From there, 12 jurors and 12 alternates will be seated for the trial. Opening statements are scheduled for April 27.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. had hoped to find 120 people who could move on to the final phase but said the process would continue as planned.
James Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the July, 20, 2012, attack on a Denver-area movie theater. If the panel convicts him, it must then decide whether to sentence him to death. If jurors find he was insane at the time of the shooting, he would be committed indefinitely to a state psychiatric hospital.
Jury selection began Jan. 20, after court officials summoned an unprecedented 9,000 prospective jurors. After filling out lengthy written questionnaires, hundreds of people were asked to return for individual questioning, where defense attorneys, prosecutors and Samour questioned them, sometimes for hours, about their views and sometimes their personal lives.
In the next phase, attorneys will no longer be able to question prospective jurors about the death penalty, hardship and mental illness.
Many potential jurors were excused when they said they had already formed an opinion on Holmes’ guilt or were morally opposed to the death penalty. Still others were dismissed because of personal connections to the shooting, including people who had friends or family in the packed movie theater that night or who knew some of the hundreds of first responders who rushed to the scene.
On Friday, Samour dismissed a young man who said he believed Holmes entered an insanity plea to “get out of what he did.” The man said he often goes to the movie theater where the shooting took place and had posted comments about the attack on Facebook.
Among those he asked to return was a professional housekeeper despite defense attorneys’ concerns that she would favor a death sentence.
Samour still hasn’t ruled on a defense request to move the trial to another county. Holmes’ lawyers say most prospective jurors in Arapahoe County, where the shooting happened, are already biased against him.