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Colorado movie shooting suspect mentally ill, lawyers say

- Associated Press - Thursday, August 9, 2012

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Attorneys for the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shootings say that their client is mentally ill and that they need more time to assess the nature of his illness.

James Holmes' attorneys made the disclosure Thursday at a court hearing in Centennial, where news organizations were asking a judge to unseal documents in the case.

Mr. Holmes had the same dazed demeanor that he has had in previous court appearances.

Defense attorney Daniel King made the revelation as he argued that the defense needs more information from prosecutors and investigators.

"We cannot begin to assess the nature and the depth of Mr. Holmes' mental illness until we receive full disclosure of all the documents," Mr. King said.

News organizations were asking the judge to unseal court documents and scale back a gag order that bars the university that Mr. Holmes attended from releasing details about him.

The Associated Press and 20 other organizations want Chief District Judge William Sylvester to unseal documents that could provide the public with details about Mr. Holmes and the July 20 massacre in Aurora. The shooting during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie left 12 people dead and injured 58 others. Mr. Holmes, a 24-year-old former doctoral student at the University of Colorado, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Arapahoe County prosecutors argue that releasing documents could jeopardize their investigation. Mr. Holmes' attorneys want to ensure he receives a fair trial.

Judge Sylvester's order sealing documents includes the case file, which makes it impossible for observers to understand prosecution and defense arguments on motions that are referenced by number only.

Three days after the shootings, Judge Sylvester also issued a gag order that bars officials at the University of Colorado from responding to public-records requests concerning Mr. Holmes.

He, too, said doing so would jeopardize the county's investigation. Aurora officials have cited the order in declining to speak about the city's response to the shootings.

"It is performing our watchdog role to look at the process and try to assess for the public how the police have handled the case and assembled the evidence and assure for the defendant and the public that things are being conducted open and fairly," said Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post. "It goes way beyond what's necessary to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial."

Court documents, which include search warrants, inventories of evidence collected by police and police interviews with witnesses can be an important source of information for the public.

Little is known about how police say Mr. Holmes prepared for the shooting at the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," or how they say he rigged his nearby apartment with explosives. Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates has said the explosives were designed to kill anybody who entered Mr. Holmes' apartment, including first-responders.

Steven D. Zansberg, an attorney representing the news media consortium, said the judge should at least explain which documents have been sealed and why.

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