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Judge: Theater Shooting Jury Can Ask Questions

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James Holmes in court in June 2013 (credit: CBS)

James Holmes in court in June 2013 (credit: CBS)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – Jurors in the trial of the suspect in last year’s Colorado movie theater shooting rampage will be allowed to ask questions of witnesses, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Defense attorneys for James Holmes had objected to jurors asking questions, while prosecutors had argued juror questions could be allowed with safeguards to protect Holmes’ right to a fair and impartial jury.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 counts including murder and attempted murder. He is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others at an Aurora movie theater July 20, 2012.

His trial is scheduled to start in February. The Colorado Mental Health Institute is working on a report on Holmes’ sanity.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ruled Tuesday that allowing questions from jurors would encourage them to remain engaged in what is expected to be a lengthy trial. He said it also could help offer them clarity in a complex case.

“The Court concludes that the benefits of permitting the jury to ask questions in this case are too great to sustain the defendant’s objection,” Samour wrote. “The Court is confident that with adequate safeguards to screen objectionable questions, the defendant’s constitutional rights will be protected.”

Samour wrote that he would screen juror questions. The questions must be in writing, submitted anonymously and directed to the witness on the stand, he wrote. Juror questions for a specific witness won’t be allowed once a witness’ testimony is completed.

Attorneys for both sides will be consulted, out of earshot of jurors and witnesses, before a question is asked. Attorneys also can object to each question, with the court ruling on objections outside the presence of jurors and the witness. Attorneys for both sides also can ask follow-up questions based on the question from the jury.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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