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Theater shooting case draws huge pool of prospective jurors

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
James Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 more in a shooting spree in a crowded theatre in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012

DENVER (AP):

One of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history will be replayed in a Colorado courtroom - but only after an unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 people is winnowed to a handful to decide whether James Holmes was insane when he opened fire in a suburban movie theatre.

Holmes is one of the few suspects to survive such an attack - many are killed by police or commit suicide. His survival has sparked an emotionally charged debate in which his parents have begged for a plea deal that would save his life, while many survivors and family members of victims have demanded that he stand trial and face the death penalty if convicted.

Jury selection began yesterday, and the trial could run until October. It could provide a look into the mind of Holmes, whose attorneys acknowledge was the gunman in the July 20, 2012, attack but say he was in the grip of a psychotic episode at the time.

INSIGHT INTO THE MIND

"The public is going to get an insight into the mind of a killer who says he doesn't know right from wrong," said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. "It is really rare. It just doesn't usually come to this."

Holmes, 27, was arrested as he stripped off his combat gear in the parking lot of the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, where 12 people were killed and 70 injured during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie.

He later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. If jurors find him guilty, they must then decide whether to recommend the death penalty. If Holmes is found not guilty, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so "diseased" that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Part of the reason the case has dragged on so long is the battle over whether that standard applies to Holmes.