CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) – A jury was seated Tuesday in the death penalty trial of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes after a selection process that experts say was among the largest and most complicated in U.S. history.
Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the July 2012 attack in suburban Denver.
His attorneys don’t dispute that he pulled the trigger but say he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the packed movie theater and opened fire.
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Jurors will decide whether he was legally insane at the time. If they find him guilty, they must also decide whether he should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The 12 jurors and 12 alternates were chosen in a process that began Jan. 20 after court officials summoned an unprecedented 9,000 people.
There are 19 women and five men, all of whom will sit through the entire trial. The group of 24 people and the public will not know who is a primary juror and who is an alternate until they begin deliberations.
Among those chosen are a union plumber; a woman who cares for her elderly parents; a woman who once worked at a detox center; and a woman with depression. Also on the jury are a Denver Public Schools employee, a teacher and a man who was a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings who said he could be fair despite having been childhood friends with the shooters and the prom date of a victim.
One juror said during the questioning process that she was nervous about what her community would think of her verdict.
The case is “big and serious, and it’s going to have a huge impact on me and everyone else, the defendant and people in the community,” she said.
LINE OF QUESTIONING
Attorneys on Tuesday questioned 93 remaining jury candidates about their interpretations of the law, how they would gauge witnesses and experts’ credibility, and whether they could handle serving on such a high-profile trial.
District Attorney George Brauchler characterized it as a “four- to five-month roller coaster through the worst haunted house you can imagine.”
He asked prospective jurors if they could serve even if they hear no evidence of a motive, since prosecutors are required to prove only the 165 charges against Holmes – not why they believe he committed the crimes.
Holmes’ attorney, Tamara Brady, focused on perceptions of Holmes and whether the jury candidates could be objective given the litany of charges against him and the public scrutiny they will face. She asked how they felt listening for nearly two hours as Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. read a list of the charges, including each victim’s name. She wondered if prospective jurors would be too sympathetic to survivors.
She said she was nervous “about whether Mr. Holmes can get a fair trial in this case or whether it’s just too big.”
Potential jurors told attorneys they worry about what their neighbors might think if they reach an unpopular verdict and whether reporters would harass their families.
One man said he was reassured when the judge told him steps were taken to shield his identity. Many pledged they would not let their decision-making be influenced by concern about what others think.
Other candidates expressed trepidation about hearing graphic testimony and perhaps being overwhelmed by emotion.
WHAT’S TAKEN SO LONG?
Some prospective jurors have asked the judge why it has taken nearly three years for the case to come to trial.
Samour has said it’s not an unusual amount of time for a trial this complex. The death penalty and insanity plea introduced complicated and time-consuming legal requirements.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER LARGE TRIALS?
In the amount of time it has taken to pick a jury in Denver, federal jurors in Boston convicted marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
That case was accelerated by Tsarnaev’s admission that he participated in the April 2013 bombings and that his brother, Tamarlan, was the mastermind.
The Texas trial for the killer of a former Navy SEAL depicted in the movie “American Sniper” was complicated by publicity about the film. But jury selection moved quickly because it didn’t involve concerns about the large number of people affected by the crime.
The chosen jurors will report to court on April 27 for opening statements.
– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer
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