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Judge finds “good cause” to allow insanity plea for accused Colorado gunman
Keith Coffman Reuters
2:31 p.m. EDT, May 13, 2013

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) – A Colorado judge found “good cause” on Monday to allow accused movie theater gunman James Holmes, who could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering 12 moviegoers last year, to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

But Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour Jr. stopped short of permitting Holmes’ lawyers to enter a new plea, saying he would render a final decision by the end of the month after prosecutors have a chance to respond and he rules on the legal consequences of an insanity plea.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the July 2012 shooting spree in a suburban Denver multiplex during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The attack, which along with December’s Connecticut school rampage helped reignite a national debate on gun control, ranks as one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.

In addition to the 12 members of the film audience slain in the theater shooting, 58 others were wounded by gunfire and another 12 suffered various other injuries in the ensuing pandemonium.

Defense lawyers had said they were not ready to formally pursue an insanity defense at the arraignment back in March, when the judge entered a standard not-guilty plea on Holmes’ behalf.

“We now have a diagnosis that’s complete,” public defender Daniel King told the judge on Monday.

Samour said he took the defense arguments at face value and did not believe Holmes’ lawyers were engaging in “dilatory tactics.”

“Good cause has been established” by the defense for a change in plea to not guilty plea by reason of insanity, he said.

The judge gave prosecutors until the end of this week to file in writing any objections they might have to an insanity plea, and the defense would then have a few more days after that to respond. The judge said he would then rule by May 28 on the legal ramifications of an insanity plea, and he set a hearing for May 31, in which Holmes will be advised of the consequences and could go through with a plea change that time.

Holmes was present for the hour-long proceedings on Monday. Still sporting a shagging beard and dressed in maroon prison garb, he sat impassively as usual at the defense table without saying a word.

Prosecutors announced last month that they would seek to put the California native to death if he is convicted of the massacre, citing the “especially heinous, cruel or depraved” nature of the crime.

Since it is a capital case, it has been widely expected that Samour will grant the change-of-plea request.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)