CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4/AP) – After deciding Thursday that there’s enough evidence for James Holmes to go to trial, a judge on Friday postponed the arraignment for Holmes despite objections from prosecutors and most of the victims and their families.
Holmes’ arraignment at the Arapahoe County Justice Center will now take place on March 12.
Prosecutors said there were 84 objections to such a delay in the case, but state District Judge William Sylvester agreed with the defense’s request for the delay.
Sylvester said he “empathizes with the victims” but also wants to “make sure the matter is done right.”
“We want to avoid at all costs doing anything improper,” he said.
Holmes, 25, faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder in the Aurora movie theater shooting on July 20.
Holmes’ attorneys filed papers Thursday afternoon saying he was not ready to be arraigned.
The defense lawyers have not explained why they want the delay. One possible reason could be to seek a mental health evaluation by a doctor of their choosing. Lawyers for Holmes have said he is mentally ill, raising the possibility of an insanity defense.
At the end of Friday’s hearing Steve Hernandez, the father of slain victim Rebecca Wingo, yelled “Rot in hell, Holmes!”
The judge called Hernandez back to address the issue, where he apologized, saying it wouldn’t happen again. Sylvester told him he’s sorry for his loss.
If Holmes, 25, is convicted of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they would pursue that sentence.
The hearing capped an emotional week in which the public, including victims and their families, got the first look at evidence gathered against Holmes and heard police officers describe attempts to save the wounded.
During the preliminary hearing, witnesses testified that Holmes spent weeks amassing an arsenal and planning the attack at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and that he took photos of himself hours before the shooting, including one that showed him grinning with a handgun.
They also detailed an elaborate setup at Holmes’ apartment designed to explode at the same time the theater attack occurred several miles away.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Holmes began acquiring weapons in early May, and by July 6 he had two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, 6,200 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire more rounds without stopping to reload.
Holmes’ lawyers called no witnesses during the hearing.
The delay of the arraignment signals the possibility of more delays in the case.
If Holmes were to be found incompetent, the case would come to a halt while he receives psychiatric treatment at the state mental hospital. He would remain there until doctors can restore him to competency, at which point the case would continue.
Once the judge rules Holmes is competent — either immediately after a competency hearing or after psychiatric treatment — and any other delays are resolved, Holmes would then enter a plea.
That happened with Jared Loughner in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A federal judge ruled Loughner was incompetent to stand trial. After more than a year in treatment, Loughner was ruled competent, the case proceeded, and he entered guilty pleas. He is serving life in prison.
Ultimately, Holmes is widely expected to plead either not guilty or — more likely — not guilty by reason of insanity.
If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes would be committed to the state mental hospital for treatment. His case would be reviewed every six months, and he conceivably could be released if he ever is deemed no longer insane.
“Insanity is what this case is going to turn on,” said Denver criminal defense attorney Dan Recht. “This is not a whodunit case.”
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