- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) - A Vietnam veteran, an attorney and an art director were among the first people questioned directly about their views on the death penalty and mental illness as the second phase of jury selection began Wednesday in the Colorado theater shooting case.

In the weeks ahead, hundreds of people who were not excused after filling out lengthy questionnaires will be asked about their beliefs and background and what they know about the case.

Among the five people Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. excused Wednesday was a Vietnam War veteran who said he had post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot view graphic images without suffering symptoms.

Such images will likely be introduced at the trial of James Holmes in the July 20, 2012, attack at a Denver-area theater that killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

Holmes, 27, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers acknowledge he was the gunman but say he was in the grip of a psychotic episode.

If jurors find Holmes was insane at the time, he would be committed indefinitely to the state psychiatric hospital.

Prosecutors dispute the insanity plea and are seeking the death penalty, though Colorado has only executed one person in the past 40 years.

Only potential jurors who would be willing to sentence someone to death can be selected for the jury.

Holmes, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt and dark gray slacks, sat at the defense table doodling and didn’t look up when District Attorney George Brauchler told the first person questioned that she might have to vote on whether to recommend the death penalty.

The woman, who appeared to be in her 20s, expressed some reservations about such a sentence but said she could keep an open mind.

An attorney questioned later said she had her doubts about insanity pleas.

“It seems like any defendant may be able to give that as a defense to commit heinous acts of any kind. I guess everyone could use that defense,” she said.

The names of the prospective jurors were not disclosed, even after the five were released. Seven others were asked to return for further questioning.

Holmes’ lawyers strongly questioned a media company art director who initially said he would not consider age or background during a possible penalty phase of the trial.

Questioned further by the judge, the man said he would indeed consider those issues. He was asked to return for the next round of screening.

But Samour dismissed a college student who said the death penalty should only be enforced in the most extreme cases, which he said would include a shooting at a movie theater.

The individual questioning phase could last as long as four months. Samour hopes the process will winnow the field to about 120 people who will then return for group questioning. Twelve jurors and 12 alternates will be chosen from that pool.

Thousands of people were initially called to court starting Jan. 20 to fill out the questionnaires. Samour dismissed more than 1,000 who brought doctors’ notes, weren’t U.S. citizens, had family problems or weren’t Arapahoe County residents.

The scope of jury selection is a testament to the logistical hurdles of trying the rare case of a mass shooter who survives his attack.

Opening statements won’t likely begin until late May or early June.


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