Three theater shooting trial jurors excused after claims from fellow juror

Aurora Theater Shooting
A view of the jury box 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. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, pool)

A view of the jury box inside Courtroom 201, where the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes began on April 27, 2015, at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial. (Photo: Brennan Linsley, pool)

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Aurora theater shooting judge dismissed three of its 24 jurors Tuesday morning after a fellow juror accused one of them of having knowledge of outside media reports about the trial -- reports the judge has banned jurors from consuming.

Juror 673 sent a note to Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. during Tuesday morning's court proceeding, suggesting Juror 872 was consuming news on the case through her Facebook news feed.

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Samour called in Juror 673, a white woman in her 30s or 40s and active member of the military, and asked her to detail her allegations against Juror 872, a white woman in her 20s or 30s who has three kids and cried during jury selection about the fact 6-year-old Veronica Moser Sullivan was killed in July 20, 2012, shooting.

Juror 872 also told the court during jury selection that she knew relatively little about the case because she "doesn't read or watch the news."

In particular, Juror 673 said she heard Juror 872 discussing the tweet Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said he mistakenly sent during court proceedings on June 4. She also said she heard Juror 872 discussing one of the defense's two motions for mistrial.

Both of those matters were addressed by the court outside the presence of the jury, so Juror 673 believed there was no way Juror 872 would have had knowledge of them without consuming outside media.

Juror 673 also told the court that Juror 872 began discussing these two court events about a week ago within earshot of at least two other jurors.

After saying he found Juror's 673 "credible," Samour called jurors 872, 412 and 495 before the court, as Juror 673 said the group eats lunch together.

Juror 872 did not admit to having knowledge of any mistrial motions. But she did say her husband called her during a court break about Brauchler's tweet, and that she took the call on speakerphone within earshot of Juror 412.

"My husband said, 'That idiot lawyer is tweeting (during testimony),'" Juror 872 said.

Juror 872 said she didn't know the content of Brauchler's tweet, but Juror 673 specifically indicated that Juror 872 said the tweet was about Dr. William Reid's mental health exam of James Holmes, the admitted gunman in the shooting that left 12 dead and 70 others injured.

Brauchler's since-deleted tweet did mention that exam.

Based on those responses, Samour indicated Juror 872 lacked credibility and excused her from service. As Samour advised her she is barred from speaking to jurors in the case as well as the media throughout the duration of the trial, she cried quietly.

Juror 412 told the court she had not heard anything about the trial -- directly or indirectly -- on the news or on social media. However, Juror 872 told the court that Juror 412 was not only sitting next to her during the speakerphone call from her husband, but had asked her about it and knew the details of the call.

After hearing that, Samour decided to excuse Juror 412 as well. That juror, another white woman in her 20s or 30s who works for a mental health center in Aurora, was released when Samour gave her the news.

The final excusal was Juror 495, another white woman in her 20s or 30s. Unlike jury selection, when she shed tears about the possibility of sentencing Holmes to death, she was calm upon hearing the news about being excused.

Though Samour did not call Juror 495's credibility into question as strongly as he did with jurors 872 and 412, he acknowledge she did mention the phone call in question and had not reported it to the court.

Specifically, Juror 495 said there was "mention" and "joking" about "someone maybe looking at something -- maybe on a phone."

RELATED: Complete profiles of all 24 jurors

Daniel King, a lead defense attorney in the case, also asked Samour to consider excusing Juror 673, saying she waited more than a week to report the first incident.

"There is no telling what else she may have heard," King said.

Samour felt differently, not only retaining Juror 673, but calling her "the most honest juror in this courtroom."

"If we trust her statement about these events, we must also trust her when she says that she can remain fair and impartial in spite of all this," Samour said.

Juror 535 also mentioned hearing Juror 872 mention the word "mistrial" during a break last week but said she walked back inside after hearing that word. Samour retained her as well.

The theater shooting court retained 24 jurors for the case over the course of three months, with 12 jurors and 12 alternates. As of Tuesday, the court is down 21 jurors, with 12 jurors and nine alternates.

All jurors are present for every court session. All have been instructed to assume they're one of the 12 jurors.

Only Samour and both counsels know who the actual jurors will be. That information will be made available to the remaining 21 when deliberations begin, which is expected to occur in late July.

The defense did not call for a mistrial after Tuesday's excusals, as many, including FOX31 Denver legal analyst Chris Decker, expected. In theory, the court could still dismiss nine other jurors without causing a mistrial.

But Decker said Tuesday's incident could be a longstanding issue in spite of Samour's rulings, as the idea of potential media consumption among the jury could be a boon for the defense should it decide to seek an appeal.

It's not uncommon for jurors to consume news reports on cases to which they've been assigned, Decker added, even when expressly told to refrain from doing so.

"It's unfortunate, but it's a reality," Decker said. "That's why in major cases like this, sequestration is often ordered."

Samour chose not to sequester the jury because of its expected length, which the court has estimated at four to five months.

RELATED: Complete theater shooting timeline

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