Aurora theater shooting judge suggests shortening jury selection

Aurora Theater Shooting
A view of the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes is to begin on Jan. 20, 2015, at the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo., Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015.

A view of the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes came to a close on April 14, at the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. (Photo: Brennan Linsley, pool)

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Seemingly encouraged after almost two weeks of court sessions, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour proposed cutting the current phase of jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting trial by almost a week.

Samour’s encouragement stemmed from the averages he presented before the court Friday morning. The judge indicated the court has seen an average of 130 jurors completing questionnaires in each of the 16 completed sessions, leading to a little more than 2,000 questionnaires completed.

And after Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler and his team, along with James Holmes’ defense, agreed to dismiss 147 jurors Friday, the total number of dismissed jurors increased to just under 870, leaving about 1,200 individuals who had completed the questionnaire still in the jury pool.

Seeing that running total approaching a sufficient number for the next phase of jury selection — individual questioning — Samour suggested stopping the questionnaire portion on Feb. 9, not Feb. 13 as originally scheduled.

Samour continued to address a request made regarding the individual juror questioning period by the defense for Holmes, the admitted gunman in the July 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and another 70 injured. That process is slated to last 16 weeks and is expected to begin Feb. 11.

The defense has asked 12 would-be jurors be called each day with questioning periods lasting 20 minutes each. Going by that approach, Samour said the court could expect to see about 860 would-be jurors for individual questioning, taking into account holidays and the fact the court is planning to take off every other Friday.

Samour suggested the court call 18 jurors during each day of individual questioning and be questioned for 10 minutes each. That would allow the court to individually question almost 1,300 jurors.

Samour conceded to starting the individual juror questioning period with the parameters suggested by the defense. But the court’s goal is to retain an average of 1.6 jurors per day. And if that goal isn’t met, Samour indicated the court would have to consider speeding up the process.

At the end of the 16-week individual juror questioning period, the court hopes to have 100 to 150 jurors left in the pool. The court hopes to have 12 jurors seated for the trial along with 12 alternates by May or June.

The defense did not object to any of Samour’s proposals, but the prosecution voiced some concerns Friday afternoon, particularly Senior Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman.

Specifically, Orman was concerned about what he called a “great many” potential jurors who had refrained from listing any hardships in the jury questionnaire. Orman was further concerned that those jurors would change their minds by the time they were called back for individual questioning, and a great deal of them would end up ultimately being dismissed due to legitimate hardships.

Though Samour indicated he could legally call more jurors if need be, Orman indicated he’d rather see the court use the four already-scheduled days to go through jury questionnaires in an effort to avoid having to call additional jurors.

Samour indicated he appreciated Orman’s concerns, and that he would ponder them over the weekend before issuing a final ruling on cutting the jury quesionnaire period short on Monday.

Aside from addressing scheduling issues, the court also took care of the typical process of reviewing and dismissing jurors based on the jury questionnaire on Friday morning. And there was intrigue on that front, as well.

It marked the second time the court staff believed an individual had showed up drunk and the first time the staff suspected a potential juror had shown up high.

Before forming their suspicions, court staff indicated the person they suspected to be high indicated that while he could speak English, he was illiterate and unable to fill out the questionnaire. Both individuals were sent home.

A would-be juror who the court suspects showed up drunk to duty earlier this week was also sent home, but rescheduled to appear at a later date. It seemed the same would apply to the two jurors who allegedly showed up impaired on Friday.

There were also several more jurors who were released after the court determined they were not U.S. citizens. Considering this has been common, the prosecution asked Samour if he could divulge the reason noncitizens were being called to jury duty, as Brauchler indicated his staff has little to no prior experience seeing individuals without citizenship ending up in a jury pool.

Samour relayed a message from the jury commissioner’s office, saying it is not uncommon. Those individuals, the judge continued, are typically eliminated from jury pools by the jury commissioner’s office before ending up in court.

But in this case, a ruling entered by Samour has stripped the jury commissioner’s office of its ability to make those preemptive juror eliminations.

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