- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — On the first day of jury selection, James Holmes looked more like the neuroscience graduate student he once was than the diabolical mass murderer he is accused of becoming.

He was dressed in a gray blazer, khaki pants and a blue open-collar shirt, not the prison garb he has previously worn at the Arapahoe County courthouse. He wore glasses and his hair was brown and neatly trimmed, not unkempt and dyed orange as it was when he was arrested July 20, 2012.

Mr. Holmes, 27, is accused of killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 in an attack on an Aurora theater during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but if found guilty, he could face the death penalty.

In light of the publicity surrounding the case, District Court Judge Carlos A. Samour has taken unusual care to ensure a fair trial by sending out a staggering 9,000 summons to potential jurors. That pool has since been winnowed down to 7,000 due to conflicts and returned notices, but even so, the selection process is likely to last for months, with opening arguments not expected until May or June.

“Jury selection can take a while in a big case, but this is extraordinary,” said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman, who now hosts a Denver radio show on KNUS-AM.

“The 18-page questionnaire, followed by rounds of individual voir dire in chambers — 10 minutes per side — and 22 preemptory tests — that may be some kind of record,” Mr. Silverman said. “But that’s because they are planning on so many alternates.”


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The first 180 of those summoned arrived Tuesday to fill out questionnaire and receive instructions from the judge. The jury will consist of 12 jurors and 12 alternates for a trial that is expected to run through the summer and into the fall.

Spending four months on jury selection may sound excessive, but as legal experts point out, it’s not easy finding 24 people who can fairly weigh issues like the death penalty and the insanity defense while giving up months of their lives to the courtroom.

“Chief Judge Samour is showing laudable caution in having so many jurors available,” said Denver attorney and legal analyst Scott Robinson. “Because of the multiple problems this case presents, I think it’s a good plan and a workable way to go about finding jurors.”

That Mr. Holmes committed the crime is not in question, meaning that the trial will focus on his mental state, making jury selection “especially challenging,” said Cornell University Law School professor Valerie Hans.

“Among the public, there is a lot of suspicion and hostility toward insanity defenses in criminal trials,” said Ms. Hans in an email. “Many people assume that those who claim insanity are faking it to escape responsibility for their crimes. The public overestimates the frequency and success of the insanity plea, and misunderstands the consequences. So this hostility toward the defendant’s insanity plea will be a major challenge during voir dire.”

Mr. Holmes‘ parents, Arlene and Robert, issued a statement in December asking prosecutors to accept a sentence of life in prison without parole in exchange for a guilty plea and describing their son as “a human being gripped by a severe mental illness.”

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler has rejected at least one such plea deal. After consulting with victims’ relatives, he said during a hearing last year that, “In this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.”

This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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