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Jury Selection Begins in US Theater Massacre

  • VOA News

A judge in the western U.S. state of Colorado has begun screening potential jurors for the death penalty trial of a gunman accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in a movie theater near Denver in 2012.

The selection process, expected to take weeks, is the first step in the trial of 27-year-old defendant James Holmes.

A former University of Colorado neuroscience graduate student, Holmes is accused of opening fire with an automatic weapon in a packed cinema house in July 2012. He also is charged with possession of explosives, after police later found a series of deadly booby traps at his apartment.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers are prepared to argue their client was experiencing a psychotic break on the night he donned black body armor outside the theater, re-entered and began spraying bullets into the crowd.

Prosecutors allege Holmes acted in a calculating and deliberate manner, methodically amassing an arsenal as he plotted his rampage at a midnight screening of a "Batman" movie.

Court officials earlier this month mailed 9,000 notices to potential jurors who will fill out written questionnaires in the first step of the selection process. The judge eventually will seat 12 jurors and 12 alternates to weigh the defendant's fate.

The large number of people summoned reflects the difficulty expected in finding an impartial jury for such a high-profile, emotive case. Each person will be questioned about views on topics such as insanity defenses and the death penalty.

Samour told prospective jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, including on social media, nor to carry out any independent research.

"The jury must decide this case based only on the evidence presented in the courtroom and the law I will provide," he said.

Holmes was in court dressed in a gray suit jacket, open-neck blue shirt and khaki pants, the first time in court that he did not wear his usual red prison garb. Bearded and wearing spectacles, he chatted and smiled with his lawyers, while tethered to the floor below the desk.

Holmes, who first appeared in court in the days after the shooting looking dazed and with his hair dyed red-orange, looked on as the first group of 250 possible jurors were addressed by the judge and given lengthy questionnaires to fill out.

The trial has been delayed several times, mostly by wrangles over Holmes' state of mind when he opened fire inside the crowded premier of "The Dark Knight Rises" film at Aurora's Century 16 multiplex.

The Southern California native has undergone two-court ordered sanity exams since his arrest. The exams have produced dozens of hours of video and thousands of documents, all sealed by the judge; according to court papers they provided conflicting results.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.

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