Next Aurora theater shooting jury selection phase to begin early

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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. — With over 1,000 jurors dismissed, and presumably over 1,300 potential jurors left in the pool after completing questionnaires, the judge presiding over the Aurora theater shooting case ruled on Monday that the current phase in the trial process could end four days sooner than scheduled.

The initial jury questionnaire portion of the selection process is now slated to end on Feb. 9. That phase had been scheduled to run until Feb. 13. The next phase of the process will be individual juror questioning, and it is now scheduled to commenced on Feb. 11.

The individual juror questioning period will be the most lengthy phase of the selection process, and is slated to last 16 weeks. The court will begin that process by calling 12 jurors per day and spending an average of 20 minutes questioning each of them.

The court hopes to have between 100 and 150 jurors left after individual questioning. From there, the court will work to seat 12 jurors for the trial along with 12 alternates by May or June.

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Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour indicated on Friday that in order to end up with that 100 to 150 jurors, the court’s goal is to retain an average of 1.6 jurors per day during the individual questioning period. If that goal isn’t being after the first few weeks, Samour indicated the court would have to consider speeding things up. Particularly, Samour has suggested the court could call 18 jurors per day and spend an average of 10 minutes questioning each of them.

Samour made the ruling to shorten the first phase of jury selection on Monday despite an objection from the defense, which was lodged on Friday.

Specifically, Senior Deputy District Attorney Rich 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 then end up being dismissed due to legitimate hardships.

Orman expected many jurors to ultimately list a financial hardship. Employers are only obligated by Colorado law to pay employees serving on juries for three days. After that, the court will pay jurors $50 a day, a relatively small amount of money to live on for six months, which is how long the theater shooting trial is slated to last.

After taking the weekend to consider Orman’s objection, Samour indicated on Monday he was “optimistic by nature,” and confident the court wouldn’t regret shortening the initial phase of the jury selection process.

The prosecution and the defense for James Holmes, the admitted gunman in the Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and another 70 injured, agreed to dismiss over 140 more jurors on Monday, bringing the total number of dismissals to over 1,000.

Samour indicated the court had close to 1,300 jurors who had completed questionnaires still left in the pool on Friday. Considering Samour said the court has been seeing an average of 130 jurors per session, it could be assumed that after Monday morning’s session and dismissals, there were well over 1,300 jurors left to be called to the next phase of jury selection.

Not among those dismissed was a potential juror who showed up last week with her 11-week-old son. The woman was sent home with the infant at the time, and rescheduled to appear at a later date.

On Monday, the court read a note from the woman’s doctor, which asked for the woman to be excused as a juror because she was still breastfeeding. Both the prosecution and defense agreed with Samour, that instead of dismissing the woman, the court should seek to provide the woman with accommodation to continue breastfeeding.

Another potential juror left the following note on his questionnaire as a reason he should be excused immediately: “Sorry, I can’t read.” After reading the man’s note in court, Samour said, “But he was able to write this note.” Therefore, the man was told he had to stay and fill out the questionnaire to the best of his abilities.

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