On Tuesday, June 4, Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. accepted James Holmes’ change of plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. It was just a month ago when Holmes’ lawyers requested to change his plea, which is generally seen as Holmes’ best chance to avoid the death penalty.
James Holmes’ lawyers said they delayed the plea because they deemed Colorado state laws to be unconstitutional. In an insanity case Colorado law requires that Holmes cooperate in a court-ordered independent psychiatric evaluation. If he does not cooperate, the defense will be barred from calling any mental health experts of their own to testify on their behalf. His lawyers argued that this would be a restriction on Holmes’ right to build a defense and argued that the law does not define cooperation. Judge Samour rejected these arguments last week and Tuesday morning commented that Holmes understands the effects and consequences of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea.
This mental health evaluation is expected to take months and Holmes will go to the state hospital in Pueblo, Colorado for the evaluation.
Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong due to a diseased or defective mind. If Holmes is found not guilty by reason of insanity he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital and could eventually be released if doctors felt his sanity had been restored, but that is considered unlikely. Court documents have shown that the defense had previously offered to have Holmes plead guilty, serving life in prison without parole if the district attorney took the death penalty off the table.
On Monday night the defense filed 89 last minute motions including to be present during Holmes’ state mental evaluation. Tuesday the prosecution replied that there is no precedent for that specific request in Colorado, and having outsiders there would negatively impact the accuracy of the test. The defense also said it plans to request a change of venue, arguing that Holmes cannot receive a fair trial in Arapahoe County. Holmes’ defense team is also trying to get expert testimony, Holmes’ statements to investigators and evidence seized from his phone and dating-site profile excluded from the trial.
Judge Samour also ordered on Tuesday the release of the notebook that Holmes sent to his school psychiatrist before the shooting. Prosecutors say the notebook could provide key insight into the planning and motives behind the shooting and Holmes’ mental state at that time. The defense argued that the notebook is protected under doctor-patient confidentiality, even though his psychiatrist never saw the notebook. The notebook was seized by police in a campus mailroom three days after the shooting. However, since the Judge’s ruling the notebook was turned over to prosecutors and is said to be a key piece of evidence in this complex case.
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