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Holmes Judge Sets Up Jury’s Death Penalty Process

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James Holmes in court on Sept. 30, 2012 (credit: Bill Robles)

James Holmes in court on Sept. 30, 2012 (credit: Bill Robles)

DENVER (AP) – Jurors in the Colorado theater shooting case will deliberate up to three separate times on whether defendant James Holmes should be executed if they convict him of murder, the judge said Friday.

In a written ruling, Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said he plans to have the jury work through the requirements of Colorado’s death penalty law step by step before moving to the final question of whether Holmes should live or die.

The process could end at any step with a sentence of life in prison without parole unless prosecutors convince jurors the requirements for execution have been met.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 20, 2012, attack on a suburban Denver movie theater.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The trial is scheduled to start in October.

Under Colorado’s death penalty law, the same jury that decides whether a defendant is guilty of murder decides whether the penalty should be execution or life in prison. The jury determines the penalty after hearing both sides lay out their arguments in steps.

Samour said Friday that if Holmes is convicted, jurors would first hear arguments on whether any aggravating factors were present – for example, the killing was cruel or depraved. The law lists more than two dozen possible aggravators.

Jurors would then deliberate. If they decide there were no aggravating factors, Holmes would get life in prison.

But if the jury decides aggravators were present, prosecutors and the defense would then argue whether any mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors. The law lists a dozen mitigators, such as stress or mental problems the defendant was suffering, and says others can be considered as well.

Jurors would then deliberate again. If they decide that mitigating factors outweigh the aggravators, Holmes would get life in prison.

But if the jury decides the mitigators don’t outweigh the aggravators, prosecutors would make their final arguments for the death penalty and defense attorneys would make their case for life imprisonment. Jurors would deliberate a third time to decide on the sentence.

Samour revealed his plans for the deliberations when he ruled on a series of defense motions on the penalty phase. He rejected most of the motions, but he said defense lawyers would get to make the last argument if the sentencing phase gets to the third set of deliberations.

Samour also told the attorneys Friday he will not hold hearings on any of the pretrial motions about the death penalty, saying he could reach a decision based on their written arguments.

- By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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