Defense will renew request to move Aurora theater shooting trial
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Last April, defense lawyers in the Aurora theater shooting case requested a change of venue for the trial. District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said the only way to find out if Arapahoe County could sit a fair and impartial jury was to try.
Despite what has been characterized as better-than-expected progress six weeks into jury selection, the defense informed Samour on Monday that they don’t have any plans to rescind their request for a change of trial venue. Samour indicated he will hear oral arguments on the venue change request at the conclusion of individual questioning, which will likely be in early April, almost a year after the initial request was filed.
Kristen Nelson is part of the team of public defenders representing James Holmes, the admitted gunman in the July 2012 shooting that left 12 dead and 70 injured. She said her team will begin filing motions next week detailing media coverage of the case since the defense’s last change of venue request.
In their initial change of venue request, the defense argued a fair and impartial jury could not be found in Arapahoe County due to the intense media coverage the theater shooting case has seen.
Samour issued no ruling on the request; instead saying he would need to see a good faith effort from both counsels to seat a jury before doing so. He also went so far as to express his own personal confidence in the idea that a competent jury could be found in Arapahoe County.
Six weeks into jury selection, there seems to be little evidence to shake Samour’s initial confidence in the search for impartial Arapahoe County jurors.
In total, 9,000 jury summons were issued in December 2014 for this case. The court began the first stage of the selection process by having around 7,000 of those summoned jurors begin completing questionnaires in late January.
Of those 7,000, around 2,000 jurors were retained for individual questioning in February, which commenced for a 14th day on Wednesday. During individual questioning, both the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office and the defense are given up to 20 minutes a side to question each juror. Samour also spends 10-30 minutes questioning each juror.
All jurors questioned in the current phase have been probed by Samour in regard to how much media they have consumed related to this case. Most jurors have indicated that they haven’t followed the case closely — if at all — since the first few weeks after the July 20, 2012 shooting.
As of Tuesday, the court had individually questioned close to 160 jurors and had retained 47 of them for group questioning, the third and final stage of the selection process.
Samour has stated the court would like to retain around 120 jurors before continuing to that group questioning phase. If the court were to maintain its current pace, that 120 mark would be reached in early April, over a month earlier than the court had initially expected.
In group questioning, which is expected to last just two days, both the prosecution and the defense will be given 22 preemptive strikes. This means the counsels will be able to eliminate a combined 44 jurors, no questions asked. If both counsels use all their allotted strikes, just over 75 jurors would likely remain.
The court is ultimately working towards seating 24 total individuals for this case — 12 jurors and 12 alternates. The trial, which could last six months, is currently scheduled to begin in June, but Samour has indicated that date could be moved up to as early as April if jury selection has concluded at that time.
However, the defense would likely voice a strong objection to the trial date being rescheduled to an earlier date, as they have insisted time and time again they are not even expecting to be ready to proceed to trial in June.