CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – Prospective jurors for the Colorado theater shooting trial will be grilled about their views on the death penalty, mental illness and aspects of the criminal justice system as the second phase of jury selection begins Wednesday.
Thousands of people have been called to court since Jan. 20 to fill out lengthy questionnaires. Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. dismissed more than 1,000 who brought doctors’ notes, weren’t U.S. citizens, had family problems or weren’t Arapahoe County residents.
The hundreds who remain will return starting Wednesday to answer questions from prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge about issues at the heart of the case. They will do so in the presence of defendant James Holmes, who has been sitting quietly in the courtroom since jury selection started.
Holmes, 27, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the July 20, 2012, attack on a Denver-area movie theater that killed 12 people and injured 70 others.
If jurors find him not guilty for that reason, he would be committed indefinitely to the state psychiatric hospital. Prosecutors dispute that Holmes was insane and are seeking the death penalty, though Colorado has only executed one person in the last 40 years.
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Twelve citizens will be questioned each day in a process that could last up to four months. Each side will have 20 minutes to ask them whether they can be fair about a case that has received massive news coverage. Samour hopes the process will parse out between 100 and 120 people, who will then return for group questioning. Twelve jurors and 12 alternates will be chosen from that pool.
The scope of jury selection is testament to the logistical hurdles of trying the rare case of a mass shooter who survives his attack. Opening statements won’t likely begin until late May or early June.
Only potential jurors who would be willing to sentence someone to death can be selected. Prosecutors will try to ensure jurors have no reservations about the death penalty, while defense attorneys will look for those sympathetic to mental illness and uneasy with the idea of executing a person.
“You’re talking about a human being, and that human being is right over there in the room,” said Denver attorney Craig Silverman, who is not involved in the Holmes case but has been monitoring it. “It’s a soul-searching moment for a person to say, under oath, that yes, under the right circumstances I could vote for death for this person.”
By SADIE GURMAN, Associated Press
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