DENVER — Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, it was announced Monday.
“It is my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler told the court.
In a surprise move, Judge William Sylvester reassigned himself away from the death penalty trial and Judge Carlos Samour Jr. stepped in. Sylvester said his role as chief Arpahoe County district judge is too demanding to take on what will surely be a time-consuming new trial.
The defense asked Monday that the trial be delayed until fall of 2014, but Judge Samour denied the request, noting that no one wants to rush the case, “but we want to be efficient.”
He instead set a Feb. 3, 2014, date for the trial, which is expected to last about four months. Prior to the decision to pursue the death penalty, the case was set to begin this August.
The death penalty decision came less than a week after defense attorneys filed documents saying Holmes had offered to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life behind bars in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
Prosecutors took the defense to task for publicly offering it, saying they hadn’t been given enough information to even consider such a deal.
“Not only improper, but grossly improper,” prosecutors said in a Thursday court filing. “For the intended purpose of generating predictable publicity.”
Holmes faces 166 counts of murder and attempted murder for last year’s shooting at an Aurora movie theater that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded.
Attorneys on both sides are under a gag order, leaving case watchers to divine tactics from court documents.
“Prior to arraignment, Mr. Holmes made an offer to the prosecution to resolve this case by pleading guilty and spending the rest of his life in prison, without any opportunity for parole,” the documents filed by the defense team read.
Last month, a judge entered a standard plea of not guilty for Holmes, who is accused in the July 20 shooting.
In the documents filed Wednesday, his attorneys said they were still exploring a mental health defense, “and counsel will vigorously present and argue any and all appropriate defenses at a trial or sentencing proceeding, as necessary.”
Federal agents have said the former University of Colorado doctoral student planned the attack for months.
Authorities say Holmes booby-trapped his apartment with explosives, then traveled to the movie theater armed with the weapons, tear gas and body armor planning to kill audience members during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Authorities said the gunman roamed the theater, shooting randomly as people tried to scramble away or cowered between seats.