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Insanity Plea Puts Burden Of Proof On Prosecution In Aurora Theater Shooting Trial

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James Holmes in court on March 12, 2013 (credit: CBS)

James Holmes in court on March 12, 2013 (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – The legal course in the Aurora theater shooting criminal case will change drastically on Monday. That’s when James Holmes is expected to change his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Colorado’s law differs from most other states. In most states with insanity defenses the burden of proof is on the defendants to prove they were insane at the time of the crime. But in Colorado the burden is on the prosecution to prove that Holmes was sane when he opened fire.

Attorneys for Holmes will try to show he could not distinguish right from wrong when he murdered 12 people and injured dozens of others. They will show he had been seeing a University of Colorado psychiatrist and that medications were taken from his apartment. They will also say that he claimed he was the Joker from “Batman” when arrested with orange hair at the theater.

If found not guilty by reason of insanity he would be sent to the state hospital until deemed no longer a threat to himself or others.

Former Denver prosecutor Bill Buckley vividly recalls the case of Ronald Kimbley, who was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Kimbley shot Joe Mason to death in Denver in 1976. Kimbley was sent to the state hospital after the not guilty insanity verdict. But he, like others, would not be required to spend the rest of his life in the state hospital. In 1987 he was released to go to Oklahoma and was allowed to be out on his own.

“About a year to year and a half later, I don’t know the exact date, I got call from Tulsa, Oklahoma police asking if I knew Mr. Kimbley, and I said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘We arrested him last night for stabbing a woman to death in Tulsa,’ “Buckley said.

Ronald Kimbley (credit; CBS)

Ronald Kimbley (credit; CBS)

Kimbley served time for second-degree murder and then was returned to the state hospital in Colorado, which had previously informed Buckley that Kimbley was delusional about the district attorney who prosecuted him.

“He was angry with me, he had killed twice and so if he killed again it wouldn’t affect him because apparently he was terminally ill with colon cancer,” Buckley said.

The two met up in court where Buckley says he was threatened by Kimbley. The story finally ended just two weeks ago when Kimbley died of cancer. The case is one example of what can happen when found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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