The Aurora Theater Shootings
2:50 am
Mon July 30, 2012

Murder Charges Expected In Aurora Hearing

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 3:17 pm

Authorities will file formal charges in the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings Monday. It's widely assumed that prosecutors will file dozens, if not more than a hundred, first-degree and attempted murder charges against 24-year-old James Holmes, the lone suspect in the July 20 attack.

Monday's hearing is the next step in what's expected to be months of preliminary proceedings leading up to a possible criminal trial. The judge has barred law enforcement and attorneys from speaking publicly, ruling that Holmes' right to a fair trial could be jeopardized. But plenty of attorneys not directly associated with the prosecution or defense are talking.

"If a bullet flies by your head but doesn't hit you, that's attempted murder," said Karen Steinhauser, a former chief deputy district attorney for Denver. "The prosecution is going to allege that he was trying to kill those people as well, regardless of whether or not they actually were struck by a bullet."

Prosecutors may also seek the death penalty for Holmes. Prior to the judge imposing the gag order, Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said that decision would only come after consulting with victims and their families.

"If the death penalty is sought, that's a very long process that impacts their lives for years," Chambers said.

The attack left 12 people dead and 58 wounded, some critically.

Even a preliminary hearing or a plea from Holmes is still several months out. After Monday's hearing, attorneys on both sides will continue combing through thousands of pages of police reports and evidence.

Holmes' court-appointed defense attorneys are Tamara Brady and Daniel King, who come from a statewide pool of public defenders. They were tapped because of their experience representing high-profile murder suspects, says David Kaplan, who was Colorado's chief public defender until 2006.

"It certainly is increasing pressure when you have this kind of scrutiny on it," he said, "but you still, at the end of the day, close the door and do what you're trained to do, and that's defend Mr. Holmes to the best of your ability."

Kaplan and other legal experts say defense attorneys might try to paint Holmes as someone who is deeply troubled and unfit for trial.

"I think there's no great stretch to suggest that Mr. Holmes has some serious mental health issues," Kaplan said.

An insanity plea could be one way to try to avoid the death penalty, "but I suspect that this will not be a death penalty case," he said.

Michael Radelet, an expert on the death penalty, says that might be due to economics more than anything else. As Chambers, the DA, alluded, death penalty cases can take decades, and costs to counties and the state run in the millions.

"I think that when all the factors are looked at, that ... Chambers, despite her long record of supporting the death penalty, will conclude that this is not where we want to go with this case," said Radelet, a sociology professor at University of Colorado, Boulder.

Colorado has had only one death row execution since 1967. And Chambers has caught fire for what some of her critics call an aggressive pursuit of capital punishment during her tenure. But Steinhauser, the former Denver deputy DA, says Chambers was also faced with an unusually high number of homicide cases where there was pressure to seek it.

"I don't think this is a case where we could say, well, one DA might be more inclined to seek the death penalty," she said.

Steinhauser calls this case unprecedented for Colorado, pointing out that in the Columbine massacre, the shooters killed themselves.

"I mean, this is just beyond what we've seen here in terms of a case of where a prosecutor has to make that determination," she said.

Chambers is term-limited from office in January, so the final decision may rest with whoever replaces her.

Copyright 2012 KUNC-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kunc.org.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

In Colorado this morning, authorities will file formal charges against James Holmes. He's the lone suspect in the shootings at a movie theater outside of Denver. Twelve people were killed and 58 others were injured, some of them critically. Today's hearing is the next step in what could be months of preliminary proceedings before the 24-year-old is actually tried. From member station KUNC, Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The judge has barred law enforcement and attorneys from speaking publically, ruling that James Holmes' right to a fair trial could be jeopardized. But plenty of attorneys not directly associated with the prosecution or defense are talking. And it's widely assumed that prosecutors this morning will file dozens, if not more than a hundred, first-degree and attempted murder charges against Holmes.

KAREN STEINHAUSER: If a bullet flies by your head but doesn't hit you, that's attempted murder.

SIEGLER: Karen Steinhauser is the former chief deputy district attorney for Denver.

STEINHAUSER: The prosecution is going to allege that he was trying to kill those people as well, regardless of whether or not they actually were struck by a bullet.

SIEGLER: Prosecutors may also seek the death penalty for Holmes. Prior to the judge imposing the gag order, Arapahoe County district attorney Carol Chambers said that decision would only come after consulting with victims and their families.

CAROL CHAMBERS: If the death penalty is sought, that's a very long process that impacts their lives for years.

SIEGLER: Even a preliminary hearing or a plea from Holmes is still several months out. After today, attorneys on both sides will continue combing through thousands of pages of police reports and evidence. Holmes' court appointed defense attorneys are Tamara Brady and Daniel King, who come from a statewide pool of public defenders. They were tapped because of their experience representing high profile murder suspects, says David Kaplan. He was Colorado's chief public defender until 2006.

DAVID KAPLAN: It certainly is increasing pressure when you have this kind of scrutiny on it, but you still at the end of the day, close the door and do what you're trained to do. and that's defend Mr. Holmes to the best of your ability.

SIEGLER: Kaplan and other legal experts say defense attorneys may try and paint Holmes as someone who's deeply troubled and unfit for trial.

KAPLAN: I think there's no great stretch to suggest that Mr. Holmes has some serious mental health issues.

SIEGLER: An insanity plea could be one way to try and avoid the death penalty.

MICHAEL RADELET: But I suspect that this will not be a death penalty case.

SIEGLER: University of Colorado at Boulder sociology professor Michael Radelet is an expert on the death penalty. He says that reason may be due to economics more than anything else. As D.A. Chambers alluded, death penalty cases can take decades and costs to counties and the state run in the millions.

RADELET: I think that when all the factors are looked at, that the district attorney in this case, Carol Chambers, despite her long record of supporting the death penalty, will conclude that this is not where we want to go with this case.

SIEGLER: Colorado has had only one death row execution since 1967. And Chambers has caught fire for what some of her critics call an aggressive pursuit of capitol punishment during her tenure. But former Denver deputy D.A. Linda Steinhauser says Chambers was also faced with an unusually high number of homicide cases where there was pressure to seek it.

STEINHAUSER: I don't think that this is a case where we could say, well, one D.A. might be more inclined to seek the death penalty.

SIEGLER: Steinhauser calls this case unprecedented for Colorado, pointing out that in Columbine the shooters there killed themselves.

STEINHAUSER: I mean, this is just beyond what we've seen here in terms of a case where a prosecutor has to make that determination.

SIEGLER: District Attorney Chambers is term-limited from office in January, so the final decision may rest with whoever replaces her.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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