Judge accepts Aurora theater shooting suspect’s insanity plea

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — An Arapahoe County judge accepted the not guilty by reason of mental insanity plea entered by Aurora movie theater suspect James Holmes Tuesday morning.

When asked if he had any questions about the consequences of an insanity defense, Holmes simply responded, “No.”

Holmes stands accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others last July. Against Holmes’ objections, the original judge on the case, Judge William Sylvester, entered a guilty plea on Holmes’ behalf in March when the accused gunman’s lawyers asked for more time to consider their plea.

After prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty in the case, Sylvester said he would allow the defense to change its plea if it could be proved that such a change was warranted.

After a changing of judges — Judge Carlos Samour Jr. is now presiding — and several weeks of arguments, including several made by Holmes’ defense that Colorado’s insanity plea laws are unconstitutional, Holmes’ change in plea was finally accepted Tuesday.

The next step will be a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, which could take months.

Samour also ruled Tuesday that a package Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist before the shooting can be processed as evidence.

He had sent Dr. Lynne Fenton $400 in burned $20 bills, a sticky note with an infinity sign, and a spiral notebook containing a placard. Written on it: “James Holmes, Of Life,” according to court documents.

The defense had previously argued that the contents of the package is covered by doctor-patient confidentiality. But with an insanity plea, that confidentiality no longer applies.

Before the shooting, Fenton, who works at the University of Colorado’s medical campus, warned campus police that Holmes was dangerous.

With the anniversary of the shootings approaching, many feel this case is moving at a snail’s pace. But, as defense attorney Craig Silverman explains, there is a clear reason for that. And it has everything to do with the death penalty.

“This case is complicated and it’s going to get even more so,” Silverman said. “Here we are in 11 months later and we’re still trying to get out of the starting gate with respect to the prosecution. The defense is throwing every obstacle in the way of this prosecution, and they will continue to do so unless the district attorney relents on seeking the capital punishment.”

In addition, there are reports that Holmes’ lawyers could ask the state supreme court to hear their arguments about the constitutionality of the state’s insanity plea laws.

The trial is scheduled to start in February, but could be delayed depending on what happens in the coming months.