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Spouses, nanny of victim, Columbine survivor retained for theater shooting jury

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A view inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes is to begin on Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, pool)

A view inside Courtroom 201, where the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes began on April 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, pool)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting case saw an unprecedented moment Monday morning. It set the tone for an uncanny day overall, and Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. summed it up succinctly.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a husband and wife end up in the same jury pool before,” Samour said. “Then again, I’ve never issued 9,000 jury summonses for a trial before.”

But the duo didn’t just end up in the same jury pool, one of the biggest in U.S. history. They’re two of 74 potential jurors who have been retained for the third and final round of jury selection, with Juror 570, the husband, passing through individual questioning unchallenged on Monday, and Juror 144, the wife, having done the same on Feb. 17.

The idea that both will be in the final group of 12 jurors and 12 alternates sat for the trial, however seems very far fetched. Though Juror 570 wasn’t challenged for cause by the defense team for James Holmes, the admitted gunman in the July 2012 theater shooting that left 12 dead and 70 injured, attorney Rebekka Higgs did question the idea of having both members of the spousal unit on the same jury.

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Samour agreed that keeping both jurors would be inadvisable, saying if the prosecution or the defense did not move to dismiss one of the two during group questioning, which is scheduled to take place over April 13 and 14, the court would have to look into other options to release use one two.

The logical choice, at least in the mind of Juror 570, would be to release his wife, as she is the caretaker of the couple’s two children.

The defense did object to the retention of another juror called for individual questioning Monday morning, after she revealed she had served as a nanny to Cassie Sullivan when the latter was a child. Sullivan’s husband, Alex Sullivan, was killed in the theater shooting, reportedly shielding Cassie from a barrage of bullets.

When pressed for details on her relationship with Cassie, who is expected to be called as a witness should the case move to sentencing, the juror said she had cared for her 25 years ago over a period of just 4-5 months, when she was an infant. At the time, the juror said she was close with Cassie’s mother, but the two have since become no more than acquaintances.

Wondering about her potential biases and motives, defensive attorney Kathryn Spengler also brought up the fact that the juror said she wanted to serve on this trial.

But Samour used that admission from the juror, a woman in her 50s or 60s who said she was recently divorced and living with family members, as a testament to her commendable level of candor. And since he had deemed her trustworthy, Samour said he must also take the juror at her word when she said she would not let her relationship with Cassie cloud her judgement as a juror.

The final juror retained by the court Monday was not only a survivor of the Columbine High School shooting, he was also childhood friends with Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold, the perpetrators of that 1999 tragedy, and went to the prom with Rachel Scott, who was slain in the same tragedy.

The juror said he spent “a lot of time and money” in therapy over the years, and said that when he got his summons for this case his knee-jerk reaction was, “I can’t do this.”

But the juror then went on to say that his experiences with the Columbine tragedy might make him a “perfect” fit to serve on this jury, as he was not only a firsthand witness to the terror, but also sympathetic to the role mental illness may have played in it.

“There were obviously mental issues with both Eric and Dylan,” the juror said in reference to the two shooters.

The trial date for Holmes, who is pleading not guilty by reason of mental insanity, has been set for April 21, but could be pushed back to April 27. His defense team has filed a change of venue request that is expected to be addressed by the Arapahoe County District Attorney on or before March 27.

In their request, the defense claim about 68 percent of the group of about 3,500 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires said they think Holmes is guilty, and can’t put that opinion aside.

About 39 percent went even further, the defense claimed, saying they believe Holmes was not insane at the time of the shooting. An additional 30 percent of the group said they already believe Holmes should get the death penalty, the lawyers wrote.

“The questionnaires reveal that the residents of Arapahoe County are deeply saturated not only with detailed knowledge and opinions, but bias concerning this case,” the defense wrote, including over 1,000 pages of local media coverage they have deemed prejudicial.