Theater gunman's lawyers spar over delay of Miranda rights
Police read the gunman his rights nearly 2 hours after the attack because they were concerned about a second shooter
By Dan Elliott
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Screaming gunshot victims were stampeding out of a Colorado movie theater after police arrested James Holmes, court documents say, so police officers repeatedly asked him if there was another shooter.
"It's just me," Holmes said, according to documents and testimony.
Officers asked Holmes other questions about weapons and explosives. Roughly two hours would pass before the chaos subsided and detectives would read Holmes his Miranda rights — anything you say can be used against you.
On Tuesday, Holmes' lawyers will argue that delay violated his constitutional rights and that anything he told the arresting officers should be barred from his trial.
Prosecutors will counter that the officers urgently needed to know whether Holmes had an accomplice who could still be shooting and killing people at the Century 16 theater in Aurora. They contend the questions were legal under a public-safety exemption to the Miranda rule.
Barring the use of Holmes' statements would likely have a limited impact on his trial because his lawyers have acknowledged he was the shooter and the trial is expected to focus on whether or not he was legally insane at the time of the shooting.
Holmes is accused of slipping into the suburban Denver theater on July 20, 2012, and opening fire on more than 400 people who were watching a midnight showing of a Batman movie. Twelve were killed and 70 injured.
Holmes, then 24, had just quit a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver.
He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder. His lawyers say he was in the grip of a psychotic episode.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The shooting started around 12:40 a.m. Officers who rushed to the scene testified they found Holmes standing calmly beside his car near a rear exit of the theater. Victims and survivors were still flooding through the doors as police handcuffed and searched him, the officers testified.
Officers didn't know whether another shooter was still inside, according to a prosecution motion, so they repeatedly asked Holmes if anyone was with him.
"It is just me," Holmes replied once, but another time he said nothing and "smirked," according to the documents and testimony.
Do you have any weapons, the arresting officers asked. Four guns, Holmes replied.
Do you have any explosives, the officers asked. Holmes replied that bombs were rigged at his apartment to explode if anyone went inside.
Holmes was then driven to a police station where a detective again asked if anyone helped him. Sometime around 2:30 a.m. on July 21, a detective began reading Holmes his Miranda warning.
Defense lawyers argue anything he told police before the warning shouldn't be allowed as trial evidence. Prosecutors argue police had to know if there were more gunmen who could harm civilians, emergency personnel or police.
"There were many locations inside and outside of Theater 9 where other assailants could be hidden," prosecutors wrote.
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