CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – Testimony in the fourth week of the Aurora theater shooting trial wrapped up on Thursday and the trial will be on break for four days until it resumes next Tuesday. CBS4’s Alan Gionet decided to call on CBS4 Legal Analyst Karen Steinhauser to answer some questions about the trial so far and what to expect looking ahead.
1. The prosecution seems to be going back and forth between hard testimony about evidence and emotional testimony from people in the theater. Why this technique?
Steinhauser: The prosecution is trying to keep the jurors’ attention by mixing in the emotional testimony with the non-emotional factual testimony. The prosecutors also are making sure that even as they listen to the somewhat “dry” testimony, they never forget the emotional and horrific stories of people affected by the defendant. I believe the prosecution wants to break up the victim testimony, and not have it altogether, so that jurors do not become desensitized to all of the emotion and violence.
2. The prosecution is said to be ahead of schedule. What do you expect will be their next move?
Steinhauser: The prosecution has been putting on testimony trying to demonstrate their argument that the defendant was sane at the time. At some point, we may see the doctors who examined the defendant and found him to be sane.
3. The defense has managed to include some points that might go to the sanity of James Holmes — notably, his behavior after the shootings. Do you see them calling any of the officers who dealt with him back to the stand?
Steinhauser: They probably will not call the officers back to the stand in their case in chief, but depending on issues that are raised by the defense in their case, the prosecution may recall witnesses to rebut evidence presented by the defense.
4. Jurors probably can’t help but look at James Holmes and try to pick up clues from his behavior. What about his behavior in court?
Steinhauser: Jurors will definitely be paying attention to his behavior in court, but the defense will remind them that he is medicated and the role of the jurors is to focus on his mental state at the time of the shootings and not now.
5. We have yet to hear from the experts on the question of his sanity. When are we likely to hear from them?
Steinhauser: The prosecution may be waiting to have the experts testify towards the end of the prosecution’s case because of the notion of primacy/recency, and want to ensure that the jurors remember that testimony as they begin listening to the defense case.
6. What might be the core of the prosecution and defense positions on the psychiatric exams given to the defendant?
Steinhauser: The defense is going to be focusing on the fact that their doctors saw the defendant before he was medicated and much closer in time to the shootings than the prosecution experts saw the defendant. They will argue that the medication clearly helped his psychotic symptoms.
The prosecution will argue that they have two doctors who are specialists in determining the issue of sanity and that both of them found the defendant to be sane at the time. They will also argue that they had the opportunity to observe him for many hours and to interview him extensively.
The prosecution will argue that all of the planning that went into this and the defendant’s statements about wanting to kill people and the stressors in his life provide a motive, all pointing to a very intentional, deliberate act.
The defense experts and the defense team will argue that the planning was all part of the schizophrenia and psychotic delusions that the defendant was suffering from.
7. Has the fact that the trial is being televised brought up anything during the proceedings that would normally not come up?
Steinhauser: I do not believe that televising this trial has made any difference whatsoever, other than it is giving the public a glimpse into the realities of the criminal justice system. So many people think that what happens in a trial is like what happens on TV or in the movies, and that just isn’t the case.
8. Do you have anything else you’d like to point out at this time as we wait for testimony to begin again next Tuesday?
Steinhauser: I think both sides are doing an excellent job in this trial. What disturbs me are how many people will say to me, ”Why is he wasting our time and money? Everyone knows he is guilty.” In spite of the television access, I still don’t think that people understand that the issue is whether he was sane at the time, as well as the issue that if he is convicted, Holmes would face a possible death sentence.
– Karen Steinhauser is a Denver defense attorney and former prosecutor who also is CBS4’s legal analyst.