James Holmes' Insanity Plea Accepted by Court in Colorado Theater Massacre

The decision sets in motion a mental evaluation process that could take months.

June 4, 2013, 10:33 AM

CENTENNIAL, Colo. June 4, 2013 — -- A Colorado judge has accepted accused theater shooter James Holmes' plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, a move that could spare him from the death penalty.

The decision sets in motion a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation of Holmes, a process that could take months.

Holmes is accused of opening fire last July 20 during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie, killing 12 people and injuring another 70. He faces a total of 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

Holmes, 25, could face the death penalty if tried and convicted. The insanity plea could help him avoid execution, if convicted.

If Holmes is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital, according to the Associated Press. He could eventually be released if doctors found that his sanity was restored, but that is unlikely.

Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong caused by a diseased or defective mind.

If Holmes is convicted, the case would go into a penalty phase where both the defense and the prosecution could call witnesses to testify about whether or not Holmes should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If they chose the death penalty, there could be a lengthy appeals process.

Holmes spoke for the first time since his initial appearance in July 2012. When the judge asked him if he had any question, Holmes said, "No."

Holmes' brown hair was wet and combed back, tamer than his previously more disheveled hair. He still had a beard. He appeared to be reading along during the proceedings and looked more aware of what was going on than in some previous hearings where he has looked confused and despondent.

See photos of the Colorado 'Dark Knight Rises' Theater Shooting.

On Monday night, the defense filed 89 last minute motions before the end of the business day. Among them was a request to be present during the state's mental evaluation of Holmes and a request to see the mental health evaluation before the prosecution.

The defense requested that the jury be sequestered once the trial begins. They also asked that the jury not be allowed any electronic devices during trial.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. ruled that the prosecution will get a notebook Holmes sent to therapist Dr. Lynne Fenton shortly before the shooting. Prosecutors will get the notebook on June 10. It has been in state custody since last summer.

Defense attorneys also want the judge to throw out statements Holmes made to an Aurora police detective and an FBI agent after he was arrested.

"How do I get a lawyer?" Holmes asked a detective, according to a quotes provided in a court document filed by Holmes' legal team.

The detective finished reading Holmes his Miranda warning, reminding Holmes of his right to remain silent.

"So, you're invoking your right to legal counsel?" detective Chuck Mehl asked.

"Yeah," Holmes said, adding later, "I want a court-appointed attorney."

Later that afternoon, Holmes was approached by Detective Craig Appel and FBI Special Agent Garret Gumbinner, who came to ask Holmes about the suspected explosive devices he allegedly rigged in his apartment.

"Mr. Holmes proceeded to give a statement with Gumbinner and Appel lasting approximately 38 minutes in length about the alleged explosive devices found in his apartment," the motion states.

James Holmes Claiims Insanity

Holmes' attorneys believe investigators should not have been able to speak to Holmes after he asked for a lawyer, and that anything he said after that should not be allowed into evidence.

"The judge has a lot of decisions to make," former head of the Colorado public defender's office David Kaplan told ABC News. "There's no way this trial starts in February. The defense has to have time to prepare for such a complicated case."

Holmes' lawyers have said that he is mentally ill and have said they have a diagnosis for him but have not revealed the diagnosis.

In March, a judge entered a standard not guilty plea on Holmes' behalf over the objection of defense attorneys who said they needed more time before entering a plea. In May, Holmes' defense team asked to change the plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors objected to Holmes changing his plea, arguing that defense attorneys had dragged their feet.

Holmes' physical appearance has evolved over his time in prison, visible only in rare court appearances. He has gone from wild, Joker-like orange and red hair in his first appearance to his most recent look of brown hair and a shaggy beard. He has sometimes looked bug-eyed and confused and other times so despondent and drowsy that people questioned whether he had been drugged.

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