Colo. shooting lawyers tussle over sanity evidence
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case are battling over what evidence can be admitted during James Holmes’ murder trial — all in an attempt to build up or tear down the case that he was insane.
The latest evidence in dispute is a set of statements Holmes made to investigators trying to figure out how to disable the elaborate array of explosives found in his apartment after the attack.
At a pretrial hearing today, prosecutors presented testimony aimed at showing that authorities had to question Holmes even though the lawyer he requested wasn’t present.
Aurora police Lt. Thomas Wilkes said the explosives were so dangerous that authorities considered detonating them and blowing up the whole building, and possibly threatening several nearby buildings, rather than send a technician in.
Court records show Holmes was questioned for 38 minutes at the jail about the explosives but specific details of what was discussed haven’t been released.
FBI agent Garrett Gumbinner, who was among the investigators questioning Holmes, said they asked him about the materials he used and the ignition systems.
“Most of the bomb technicians on the scene and myself had never seen anything like it. Based on the fact that it had three fusing devices, it was very sophisticated,” he said.
The system included a pyrotechnics firing box that would have been triggered by the remote control unit of a toy car left along with a boom box set to play loud music.
On Wednesday, lawyers sparred over evidence seized from Holmes’ car and computers. That included signs that one computer was allegedly used for an Internet search on the words “rational insanity” and photos on his cellphone of himself holding firearms.
“The issue is, was he sane or insane at the time,” said Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor now in private practice.
Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder. His attorneys have acknowledged he was the shooter in the massacre, which killed 12 people and wounded 70 others at a suburban Denver movie theater, but they say he was in the midst of a psychotic episode at the time.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, and to have Holmes executed Colorado law requires that they first convince the jury that Holmes was legally sane — that he knew the shootings were wrong.
The defense has been fighting to exclude any evidence that prosecutors might use to make that point, such as researching definitions of insanity or planning the attack.
Holmes’ lawyers argued the evidence from his car should be thrown out because police didn’t get a warrant before searching it. They said evidence from the computers should be tossed because a search warrant was overbroad.
Prosecutors said police had no time to seek a warrant to search the car because they feared it might contain explosives or hazardous material that threatened officers and the public. They introduced a photo showing the location of Holmes’ car outside the Aurora theater and called law-enforcement officers to testify to the potential threat.
Holmes’ trial is scheduled to start in February.