Insanity Defense Will Be The Focus Of James Holmes' Mass Murder Trial

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Opening arguments in the trial of James Holmes, accused of killing 12 and injuring dozens more during a 2012 screening of The Dark Knight Rises, began today in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes has pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but prosecutors say tests have shown he is sane.


Holmes’ legal team acknowledges he was the theater gunman, but claiming insanity as a legal defense is notoriously complicated. Colorado Public Radio reports it’s the reason why the Holmes case has taken three years to come to trial:

[Parents of victim Alex Teves, Tom Teves and his wife Caren], are frustrated by the slow pace of the trial.

“Part of the travesty of this taking so long is the people that are allowed to moved forward, that can move forward, are going to be right back to that day,” said Caren.

She places blame squarely on the gunman’s lawyers. Former Colorado prosecutor Bob Grant said Holmes is represented by some of the best trained and financed public defenders in the country.

“Look they have one job, in cases like Holmes, and most death penalty cases,” said Grant. “Their one job is to save the life of their client. Every delay is another day he or she lives.”

The shooter has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and one big reason for the delay is a battery of psychological testing from multiple experts.

It’s a high bar to prove legal insanity, not just that the defendant has some mental illness, but that he lacked the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the shooting.

Remember those eerie photos of Holmes with the dyed hair? As the Denver Post reports, the trial will shed light on elements of the case that have been kept hidden to ensure an impartial jury, and may debunk other details that were misreported at the time of the killings.

In the hours following the attack, news stories across the world reported that Holmes, with hair dyed red, told officers after his arrest that he was the Batman villain The Joker. But court documents and testimony have never substantiated that. Was it even true?

The Post also points out that even with all the new information, establishing a motive may be difficult or even impossible. Prospective jurors were told that Holmes’ motive may end up “an itch that isn’t scratched:”

“We see these common threads through mass public shooters and it describes the individual who commits this type of violence,” said Grant Duwe, a researcher with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who studies mass killings. “But I don’t think it necessarily explains why they do what they do.”


[Via NPR]

Members of the media film people walking into the Arapahoe County Justice Center for opening arguments in the trial of James Holmes. Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images




Attorney here.

If he does get “off” on insanity, it doesn’t mean he’ll just be let go.

In California at least (where I practice), if he is found not-guilty due to insanity, he will be transferred to a psych facility for monitoring and treatment. Thing is, they don’t have “sentences” or time limits. He will be treated until he is deemed recovered, which in most cases takes longer than any sentence he would have been given (other than life or death).

Even if he wins on this theory, he will still be “put away” for the rest of his life.