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Colo. shooting DA says two evaluations found Holmes sane

The trial for accused shooter James Holmes got underway with opening arguments nearly three years since the mass killing at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering 12 people and injuring dozens more by reason of insanity. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Judy Woodruff learns more from Mary MacCarthy of Feature Story News.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It’s closing in on three years since a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, left 12 people dead and 70 others injured, making it the largest number of casualties from one shooting on American soil.

    Today, the trial of the man accused, James Holmes, got under way. He’s been charged with 166 counts for attacks that took place on July 20, 2012. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Opening arguments began this afternoon and prosecutors immediately challenged the insanity argument.

  • GEORGE BRAUCHLER, District Attorney, 18th Judicial District:

    There were two psychiatrists, about a year apart, asked to do independent assessments and evaluations of him. They were picked by the Colorado Mental Health Institute of Pueblo, the state mental hospital, at the direction of the court.

    And both of them say the same thing, that that guy was sane when he tried to murder all those people in that theater back in July of 2012.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Shortly after prosecutors began their case, I spoke with Mary MacCarthy of Feature Story News. She was at the courthouse earlier today.

    Mary MacCarthy, welcome.

    First of all, describe the scene in the courtroom today.

  • MARY MACCARTHY, Feature Story News:

    Well, to say that this is a long-awaited trial is an understatement. It’s been over two-and-a-half years, just over 1,000 days, since that fateful night in an Aurora movie theater where a gunman opened fire.

    So, here, the Denver community, the community of victims, and anybody following this trial has really been on edge waiting for a long time. So it’s lots of media here, international media, people following the case closely, in the courtroom, of course, many victims, victims’ families and their friends, a packed courtroom.

    And just to give an example of the scope of this trial, the courtroom itself had to be built out to make for a larger jury box. Normally, a juror — would have 12 seats in the jury box. Here, they have 24 seats for the 12 jurors, the 12 alternates. The judge wanted 12 alternates because the trial is likely to last so long that they wanted to make sure that if someone gets sick, in any contingency, they have enough jurors that will last until the very end of this high-profile trial.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What did you hear from the prosecution today in their opening argument?

  • MARY MACCARTHY:

    Well, some of the biggest questions about this trial, about the evidence were in fact revealed just in the very few first minutes of the opening statement by the district attorney, George Brauchler, who is known for his very eloquent, concise and hard-hitting opening statements.

    He revealed just within the first few minutes that in fact the two mental health evaluations of James Holmes carried out by the state, that both of those evaluations found Mr. Holmes to be sane. There had been much speculation and expectation that perhaps one of the doctors who evaluated him had found him to be insane, the other sane, and that the trial would come down to the jury having to decide between those two state-mandated doctors and deciding which doctor they’d agree with.

    The fact is that it almost makes it seem like a relatively easy case for the prosecution because both of those doctors did find James Holmes to be sane. The other big — one of the biggest mysteries going into this was that notebook that Mr. Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist at the University of Colorado the day before the shooting.

    To this point, we didn’t know the contents of the notebook. Now after the opening statement of the prosecution, we have seen many pages of that notebook with Mr. Holmes’ own handwriting, a cursive script that is somewhat childlike, in which he lays out his plans to kill. Very clearly, he lays out his various methodology and even, in fact, some of his reasoning.

    He said, for example, that his message, when he hoped to some day carry out a killing, was that there would be no message, a very nihilistic point of view. He said that he thought about carrying out a mass murder, a mass killing at an airport, but that could be construed as a terrorist message. He didn’t want that. He wanted his point to be that this killing has no meaning, that life has no meaning.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And just quickly, what do you expect to hear from the defense?  They’re going to be trying to prove that he’s mentally — was mentally ill?

  • MARY MACCARTHY:

    That’s right.

    Knowing that the state-mandated experts both found Mr. Holmes to be sane, that means that the defense’s case will hinge on the testimony of their own mental health experts. They, of course, called in several. We know that several of theirs, perhaps all, several of them at least anyway, have found him to be insane.

    But we also know that those experts spent significantly less time with the defendant than the state’s experts did. So, again, the defense’s case will hinge on those experts. At this point, it looks like it will be a battle of the testimony between those experts called in strictly by the defense and the state experts whose point of view agrees with the prosecution.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mary MacCarthy on this trial in Colorado that has now gotten under way after, as you said, more than two-and-a-half years, we thank you.

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