Theater shooting: tough challenge to mount an insanity defense
Aurora theater shooting, July 20, 2012
Three weeks after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, attorneys for suspect James Holmes seem to be setting up an insanity defense.
Some victims in the Aurora theater tragedy aren’t buying it.
For the very first time during Holmes latest court appearance his public defender said several times that he is mentally ill.
And even though her name was removed from public court records, Holmes’ lawyer mentioned the name of the University of Colorado psychiatrist who’d been treating Holmes.
All of which points to a strategy aimed at keeping him off death row.
Images of a wild-eyed James Holmes from his first court appearance in late July played repeatedly around the world.
Now Holmes’ own lawyers are repeatedly calling him mentally ill in open court.
“It is a case that essentially portrays their client as being a monster,” says criminal defense attorney Karen Steinhauser.
Shooting victims, who come to watch him in court, are growing frustrated. They say the case seems more about Holmes’ rights than theirs.
”He’s just a cowardly person that did something awful,” Carlie Richards says.
But proving Holmes mental illness is deep and overpowering is his public defenders’ only real hope.
“His life is on the line and they want time to work this case and they want to check out as best they can what his mental condition is,” says criminal defense attorney Dan Recht.
The defense is mounting a public relations campaign in court, by saying public that Holmes is a sick person.
“It doesn’t give him the right to do what he did I don’t care how mentally damaged he is,” says Rich Townsend.
“Is it the kind of mental illness that rises to the level of insanity?” Karen Steinhauser asks. She says that question is something that will have to proven.
The legal definition in Colorado would require proof that Holmes suffers from a mental disease or defect that makes him incapable of telling right from wrong.
His lawyers will try to prove that to prosecutors…so they’ll agree to a plea deal.
“We can work something out where there isn’t a death penalty or he spends the rest of his life in prison,” says Dan Recht. And that would avoid a years-long legal process.
It would also spare many victims from reliving on the witness stand the horrors of the shooting spree that resulted in a massacre inside the Century 16 Movie Theaters.
Holmes is facing 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted first degree murder.
The prosecution indicated early on they may seek the death penalty.
No one doubts he is mentally ill. But proving he is insane is far more difficult.