12:04pm

Fri July 27, 2012
Aurora Theater Shootings

Holmes to be Charged in Arapahoe County Monday

On Monday, prosecutors will file formal charges against 24 year old James Holmes, the lone suspect in the mass shootings at the Aurora movie theater that killed twelve people and injured 58 others, some critically.

The hearing is the next step in what’s expected to be months of preliminary proceedings leading up to a possible criminal trial. 

Dozens of Charges

The judge has barred law enforcement and attorneys from speaking publically; ruling that James Holmes’s right to a fair trial could be jeopardized. 

But plenty of attorneys not directly associated with the prosecution or defense are talking.  And it’s widely assumed that prosecutors will file dozens, if not more than a hundred, first-degree and attempted murder charges against Holmes.

"If a bullet flies by your head but doesn't hit you, that's attempted murder."

said Karen Steinhauser, a former chief deputy district attorney for Denver.

Now in private practice, Steinhauser expects prosecutors will look at all of the people Holmes could have killed too, including the theater and around his boobie-trapped apartment nearby. 

“The prosecution is going to allege that he was trying to kill those people as well regardless of whether or not they were actually struck by a bullet,” she said.

Prosecutors may also seek the death penalty for Holmes.  Prior to the judge imposing the gag order, Arapahoe County district attorney Carol Chambers said that decision would only come after consulting with victims and their families.

“If the death penalty is sought, that’s a very long process that impacts their lives for years,” Chambers said on Monday following Holmes’s first court appearance.

Insanity Plea?

Even a preliminary hearing or a plea from Holmes is still several months out.  After Monday, attorneys on both sides will continue combing through thousands of pages of police reports and evidence.

Shooting suspect James Holmes's apartment in Aurora was boobie trapped with explosives.
Credit Kirk Siegler

Holmes’s court appointed defense attorneys are Tamara Brady and Daniel King, who come from a statewide pool of public defenders.  They were tapped because of their experience representing high profile murder suspects, said David Kaplan, who served as Colorado’s chief public defender until 2006.

“It certainly is pressure when you have this kind of scrutiny,” Kaplan said. “But you still, at the end of the day, close the door and do what you’re trained to do and that is defend Mr. Holmes to the best of your ability.”

Legal experts say defense attorneys may try and paint Holmes as someone who’s deeply troubled and unfit for trial.

“I think there’s no great stretch to suggest that Mr. Holmes has some serious mental health issues,” said Kaplan. 

Death Penalty?

An insanity plea could be one way to try and avoid the death penalty. But University of Colorado at Boulder sociology professor and death penalty expert Michael Radelet doubts this will be a death penalty case largely because of economics.

"In a death penalty case, it's the only example of government spending I can think of where they get a carte blanche, they can spend whatever it takes."

,” he said.

As DA Chambers alluded, death penalty cases can take decades, and costs to counties and the state run in the millions.

“I think that when all the factors are looked at that the district attorney in this case, Carole Chambers, despite her long record of supporting the death penalty, will conclude that this is not where we want to go with this case,” Radelet said.

Colorado has had only one death row execution since 1967. And Chambers has caught fire for what some of her critics call an aggressive pursuit of capitol punishment during her tenure. 

But former Denver deputy district attorney Linda Steinhauser said Chambers was also faced with an unusually high number of homicide cases where there was pressure to seek it.   

“I don’t think this is a case where we could say, well, one DA might be more inclined to seek the death penalty,” she said. 

Steinhauser calls this case unprecedented for Colorado, pointing out that in Columbine, the shooters there killed themselves.

“This is beyond what we’ve seen here in case of where a prosecutor has to make that kind of determination,” Steinhauser said. 

District Attorney Chambers is term-limited from office in January, so the final decision may rest with whoever replaces her.