Written by Alan Gionet DENVER (CBS4) – A decision on maybe the biggest step in the court process in the investigation of theater shootings suspect James Holmes is a long way away — will prosecutors pursue the death penalty?

Monday was the first day in court for Holmes and the death penalty argument is open.

“I believe it’s deserved in this case, totally,” a man on the 16th Street Mall told CBS4.

“Give him life,” woman said. “I mean … let him think about it.”

Whether Holmes faces the death penalty is ultimately up to prosecutors.

“It would surprise me, given the mental status issues involved in this case, if they got to trial any sooner than three years from now,” said David Lane, the attorney for the only man currently facing a death penalty trial in Colorado.

First, Holmes would be evaluated to see if he’s competent. That could take months, meaning the decision about whether to go for the death penalty is likely to be after current District Attorney Carol Chambers leaves office at the end of the year due to term limits.

Chambers thinks victims will need to know how long it might take.

“So they will want to have, and we will want to get, their input before we make any kind of a decision on that,” Chambers said.

The three people on Colorado’s death row right now are all convicted of committing their crimes in Aurora.

death penalty Death Sentence For Shooting Suspect Could Take More Than A Decade

Robert Ray,left, Sir Mario Owens, center, and Nathan Dunlap, right (credit: CBS)

Robert Ray is convicted of issuing the orders that led to the killings of witnesses Javad Marshall Fields and his fiance Vivian Wolfe. Sir Mario Owens is on death row for carrying out those killings. And Nathan Dunlap is convicted of killing four at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993. He’s been in reviews and appeals for 16 years.

“If there’s a death penalty then the Colorado Supreme Court automatically reviews it. That’s going to take several years,” Lane said.

That’s followed by appeals at the federal level often going to the Supreme Court, leaving a possible death sentence potentially a decade or more away.

Don’t miss a special hour long report on CBS4 on Friday at 4 p.m. titled “Movie Theater Tragedy: Remember, Honor Support” which will look back at the week following the Aurora shootings.


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