Colo. shooting judge won't overturn insanity law

Judge William Sylvester granted one defense request, for a written explanation of the consequences of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity


By Dan Elliott
Associated Press

DENVER — The judge in the deadly Colorado theater shootings has denied a request by defense lawyers to declare a state law on the insanity plea unconstitutional.

In a ruling released Friday, state District Judge William Sylvester granted one defense request, for a written explanation of the consequences of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

The ruling appears to clear the way for suspect James Holmes to enter a plea as scheduled on Tuesday. His lawyers had said they could not responsibly advise Holmes how to plead because of questions they had about the insanity law.

An insanity plea has both benefits and risks for Holmes.

He could avoid prison or execution, and even though he could be sent to the state mental hospital indefinitely, he might be released someday if doctors find he is no longer insane. But under Colorado law, an insanity plea means prosecutors would have access to potentially incriminating evidence such as mental health records.

If Holmes simply pleads not guilty, prosecutors would not have access to that evidence. But if Holmes is convicted, he could get the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.

Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty. They must declare their intentions within 60 days of the day Holmes enters his plea.

Holmes' lawyers asked Sylvester to overturn the insanity law, arguing it was unconstitutionally vague and violated Holmes' Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

Sylvester's ruling, dated Thursday, said appeals courts already have upheld the insanity law. Sylvester also said he wouldn't address some questions raised by the defense because they are "dependent on hypothetical facts."

Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 at a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora on July 20. He is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press

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