7 potential jurors dismissed on first day of jury selection for Aurora theater shooting trial

Aurora Theater Shooting
An artists sketch of James Holmes appearing in court on Jan. 20, 2015.

An artists sketch of James Holmes appearing in court on Jan. 20, 2015. (Photo: Jeff Kandyba)

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The first day of jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting case ended with seven potential jurors being dismissed. Four of them did not live in Arapahoe County and two had notes from their doctors for medical issues.

James Holmes appeared in an Arapahoe County courtroom for the first day of the jury selection process for a trial that will determine if he will be sentenced to death for the theater shooting in 2012.

Holmes appeared wearing a blazer and collared shirt. His hair was cut short and he wore glasses. It was a very different image from the suspect in the mass shooting who first appeared in court with bright wryly orange hair and a prison jumpsuit.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the July 2012 shooting at the Century Aurora 16 theater that killed 12 and wounded 70.

There was a heavy police presence at the courthouse along with a large group of reporters.

The first 188 prospective jurors arrived at the courthouse for jury selection Tuesday afternoon. They have to fill out an 18-page questionnaire with 77 questions. They’re told it will take 45 minutes to two hours to complete. And then they wait to see if they are called back for the next phase in jury selection.

Previously, the district attorney’s office said that 9,000 jury summonses were sent out, but Judge Carlos Samour said that about 2,000 were undeliverable.

The jury pool will eventually be dwindled down to 24 people — 12 jurors and 12 alternates.

“We are going to be spending a lot of time with each,” Samour said. “My expectation is that everybody will make a good-faith effort to work together.”

The process of selecting a jury is expected to take several months. The trial itself won’t start until closer to summer.

Jurors will be asked to give up a big chunk of their lives.

“In a case that runs weeks and weeks and months and months, the number of folks who can, even if they want to put their life on hold and serve on a jury, is limited,” defense attorney Chris Decker said.

What is the impact of such a potential pool?

The court is casting such a wide net for jurors that it has unwittingly summoned 12 potential witnesses in the case.

Even one employee in the prosecutor’s office received a summons.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. has already excused those individuals from the jury summonses.

With the removal of 12 possible witnesses from the jury pool, the number of potential witnesses receiving a summons could now be as high as 43, though prosecutors acknowledged in court papers “that it is likely two individuals could have the same names and not be the same person as the endorsed prosecution witnesses in this case.”

The judge said “the court appreciates this information” but added that prosecutors should file another notice if such a conflict arises during jury selection.

The potential conflicts don’t end there.

Additionally, four potential jurors are related to the prosecutor’s staff: two husbands, a father and an uncle. Another potential juror is a best friend of a prosecution staff member. A wife and a former colleague of prosecution witnesses are also potential jurors, prosecutors say..

But the judge declined immediately to excuse those seven potential jurors. “Because neither party asks the court to take any action with respect to these individuals, the court refrains from doing so at this time,” the judge said.

What do the victims’ families say about all this?

District Attorney George Brauchler spoke with relatives of 60 victims who died or were injured.

After consulting the families, he announced the prosecution will seek the death penalty for Holmes.

“In this case, for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death,” Brauchler said in court.

Prosecutors have charged in court that Holmes “intended to kill them all,” referring to patrons in the crowded movie theater watching the midnight release of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Holmes was heavily armed and “dressed head-to-toe in protective gear,” authorities said. He wore black contact lenses to conceal his eyes. His AR-15 jammed during the massacre, and police arrested him in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, Tom and Caren Teves, parents of son Alex who was among those killed, continue a campaign exhorting news outlets to focus on victims and not even mention suspects’ names in mass shootings. Alex Teves died while protecting his girlfriend from bullets.

Their plea to media is now called the #NoNotoriety Challenge: “Stop rewarding mass murderers with the media attention they crave,” their Facebook page says.

What does Holmes’ family say?

Parents Robert and Arlene Holmes haven’t given any interviews about their son, but in December, they issued a public letter stating that “we have spent every moment for more than two years thinking about” the victims and their families.

Before the mass killing, their son “never harmed anyone and he had no criminal history,” the parents said.

“We have read postings on the Internet that have likened him to a monster. He is not a monster. He is a human being gripped by a severe mental illness,” they wrote.

The parents want life imprisonment without parole for their son in exchange for a guilty plea, but the prosecutor has rejected such an offer from Holmes’ attorneys.

Holmes’ family decried the need for a trial, saying it would cause additional trauma and “force everyone to relive those horrible moments in time.”

“We believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, especially when the condemned is mentally ill,” the parents said.

“The focus should be on the injured and their healing,” they added, referring to the theater victims.

CNN contributed to this report.

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