Theater shooting case draws huge pool of prospective jurors

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What Makes the James Holmes Trial So Rare

DENVER (AP) -- One of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history will be replayed in a Colorado courtroom - but only after an unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 people is winnowed to a handful to decide whether James Holmes was insane when he opened fire in a suburban movie theater.

Holmes is one of the few suspects to survive such an attack - many are killed by police or commit suicide. His survival has sparked an emotionally charged debate in which his parents have begged for a plea deal that would save his life, while many survivors and family members of victims have demanded that he stand trial and face the death penalty if convicted.

Jury selection begins Tuesday, and the trial could run until October. It could provide a look into the mind of Holmes, whose attorneys acknowledge was the gunman in the July 20, 2012, attack but say he was in the grip of a psychotic episode at the time.

"The public is going to get an insight into the mind of a killer who says he doesn't know right from wrong," said Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant. "It is really rare. It just doesn't usually come to this."

Holmes, 27, was arrested as he stripped off his combat gear in the parking lot of the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, where 12 people were killed and 70 injured during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie.

He later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. If jurors find him guilty, they must then decide whether to recommend the death penalty. If Holmes is found not guilty, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so "diseased" that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. Part of the reason the case has dragged on so long is the battle over whether that standard applies to Holmes.

Few details on those arguments have been made public. Prosecutors and defense attorneys remain under a long-running gag order, and court documents detailing the issue have stayed under seal.

Holmes' sanity was evaluated by a state psychiatrist but the results were not made public. Prosecutors objected to the findings and persuaded a judge to order a second evaluation. Those results were contested by the defense.

Prosecutors previously rejected at least one proposed plea deal made by attorneys for Holmes, criticizing the lawyers for publicizing the offer and calling it a ploy to draw the public and judge into what should be private plea negotiations.

Survivors of the attack and family members of victims have had a long time to get ready for a trial.

"We've all been to therapists and have talked to our families and have our support groups, so we're prepared," said Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend, Rebecca Wingo, died in the attack. "It's gonna be quite the journey."

It could take until June to find 12 jurors and 12 alternates who were not biased by widespread news coverage of the shooting.

Equally challenging will be finding jurors who were not personally affected by the attack that sent waves of grief and anger through the Arapahoe County suburbs of Denver.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. called nearly nine times as many prospective jurors as were summoned in the ongoing Boston marathon bombing trial. That meant the county's 600,000 residents had a nearly one-in-50 chance of being selected.

Among those summoned were at least 13 people who were either witnesses to the attack or have family members who work in the prosecutor's office. They were quickly excused.

Starting Tuesday, prospective jurors will report in groups of about 250 to fill out a long questionnaire that hasn't been made public. Those who aren't excluded because of their answers will be called back for individual questioning.

Potential jurors won't be allowed to read or talk about the case until they know they've been dismissed. That will be difficult in the era of social media, since they have no control over what pops up on their Facebook or Twitter feeds. The final panel won't be sequestered.

During the selection process, Holmes' attorneys will focus on picking jurors who are morally opposed to capital punishment, even as prosecutors fight to ensure those on the panel are "death-penalty eligible," meaning they would be open to executing Holmes.

"It is really stacked against the defense," said Joseph Rice, managing partner of the Jury Research Institute, a California-based trial consulting firm. "Here, you have a horrific crime occurring in a public setting where you think people would be safe. ... Because of the heinous nature of the crime and the number of victims, I can see people who would say, `In most instances I could not support the death penalty, and in this case, I can.'"

Enduring the trial from the jury box would seem more difficult than the selection process.

"This is going to be a life-changing event for every juror who sits on the trial," Rice said. "They are going to deal with life-and-death issues that will forever be part of their experience."

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Theater shooting case draws huge pool of prospective jurors
FILE - This June 4, 2013 file photo shows Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo. Holmes returns to court Monday Jan. 27, 2014, for a closed hearing on whether he should get a second psychiatric evaluation. Holmes is charged with the July 2012 Aurora shootings that killed 12 people and injured 70. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool, File)
Lonnie and Sandy Phillips listen as their lawyer speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The Phillips, parents of Jessica Ghawi, who was killed in the July 20, 2012 Colorado theater shootings, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing four online retailers of improperly selling ammunition, tear gas, a high-capacity magazine and body armor used in the attack. The lawsuit alleges it was illegal and negligent to sell the gear to James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 20, 2012, attack. Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Lonnie and Sandy Phillips speak during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. The Phillips, parents of Jessica Ghawi, who was killed in the July 20, 2012 Colorado theater shootings, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing four online retailers of improperly selling ammunition, tear gas, a high-capacity magazine and body armor used in the attack. The lawsuit alleges it was illegal and negligent to sell the gear to James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 20, 2012, attack. Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. speaks during a hearing for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Samour accepted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity from Holmes. He also ruled that prosecutors can have access to a notebook Holmes sent to a psychiatrist before last summer's rampage. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
Defense Attorney Daniel King, right, and Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes review advisement documents in court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Holmes was allowed to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
Defense Attorney Daniel King, right, and Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes review advisement documents in court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Holmes was allowed to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
Defense Attorney Daniel King, right, and Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes attend court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Holmes was allowed to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes yawns during a hearing in court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Holmes was allowed to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
Defense Attorney Daniel King, right, and Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes review advisement documents in court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Holmes was allowed to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool)
FILE - In this March 12, 2013 file photo, James Holmes, left, and defense attorney Tamara Brady appear in district court in Centennial, Colo. for his arraignment. Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado theater massacre, could enter his long-expected insanity plea at a hearing Tuesday June 4, 2013, though the case could also veer off on another tangent as his lawyers seek the strongest possible defense. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool, File)
Family members and victims are escorted to the courtroom for a hearing where Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes asked a judge to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Monday, May 13, 2013, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Defense attorney Tamara Brady talks to defendant James Holmes during his arraignment in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Judge William Blair Sylvester entered a not guilty plea on behalf of James Holmes on Tuesday after the former graduate student's defense team said he was not ready to enter one. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool)
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 12, 2013 file photo, Judge William Blair Sylvester speaks during James Holmes' arraignment, where he entered a guilty plea for Holmes, in district court in Centennial, Colo., after the former graduate student's defense team said he was not ready to enter one. On Monday, April 1, 2013, Sylvester named a new judge, Carlos A. Samour Jr., to take over Holmes' case. As chief judge for the district, Sylvester is responsible for the overall running of the court and said he couldn’t do that and also oversee a complicated death penalty case. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool, File)
This courtroom sketch shows James Holmes being escorted by a deputy as he arrives at preliminary hearing in district court in Centennial, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Investigators say Holmes opened fire during the midnight showing of the latest Batman movie on July 20, killing 12 people and wounding dozens. (AP Photo/Bill Robles, Pool) TV OUT
FILE - In this July 23, 2012 file photo, James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Nearly six months after a bloody rampage in a Colorado movie theater left 12 people dead, prosecutors will go to court Monday Jan. 7, 2013 to outline their case against the suspect, James Holmes. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool, File)
Candles cover the sidewalk at a memorial across from the theater, Monday, July 30, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a shooting attack early Friday at the packed theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rita Paulina, in wheelchair, who was injured in the attack, departs the Arapahoe County Courthouse after an arraignment hearing for accused theater shooter James Holmes, Monday, July 30, 2012 in Centennial, Colo. Colorado prosecutors filed formal charges Monday against Holmes, the former neuroscience student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others at an Aurora movie theater. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A man walks on a hill near crosses set up at the memorial to victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, early Friday, July 27, 2012. It was a week ago Friday that a gunman opened fire during a late-night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie, killing 12 and injuring dozens of others. Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Pallbearers and funeral workers carry the casket bearing the body of Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting victim AJ Boik to a hearse following Boik's funeral, Friday, July 27, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. Boik was a recent high-school graduate. Boik, 18, was one of twelve people killed in a shooting attack, that also wounded dozens, last Friday at a packed movie theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop, Thursday, July 26, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. The Friday, July 20, 2012 massacre inside a crowded Colorado movie theater has prompted a sudden increase in gun sales and firearms training. Police said suspect James Holmes donned body armor and was armed with an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A Batman logo is shown at the memorial to victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, Friday, July 27, 2012. It was a week ago Friday that a gunman opened fire during a late-night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie, killing 12 and injuring dozens of others. Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Members of the prosecution team arrive to view inside the apartment where accused killer James Homes lived, Tuesday, July 24, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and over 50 wounded in a shooting attack early Friday at the packed theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, center, talks to guests at the funeral for Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting victim AJ Boik, Friday, July 27, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. Boik, 18, was one of twelve people killed in a shooting attack, that also wounded dozens, last Friday at a packed movie theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE - In this Monday, July 23, 2012 file photo, James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people in Friday's shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, appears in Arapahoe County District Court with defense attorney Tamara Brady in Centennial, Colo. A court hearing Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 will examine Holmes' relationship with a University of Colorado psychiatrist to whom he mailed a package containing a notebook that reportedly contains violent descriptions of an attack. His attorneys say Holmes is mentally ill and that he sought help from psychiatrist Lynne Fenton at the school, where he was a Ph.D. student, until shortly before the July 20 shooting. Prosecutors allege Holmes may have been angry at the failure of a once promising academic career. (AP Photo/Denver Post, RJ Sangosti, Pool, File)
A Batman doll lies in a memorial near the the Century 16 movie theater Sunday, July 22, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and dozens were injured in a shooting attack early Friday at the packed theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
FBI agents photograph the bedroom in the apartment of alleged gunman James Holmes with a poster titled "Soldiers of Misfortune" Saturday, July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Authorities reported that 12 died and more than three dozen people were shot during an assault at a movie theatre midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Investigators remove computer equipment as evidence from the apartment of alleged gunman James Holmes, Saturday, July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Authorities reported that 12 died and more than three dozen people were shot during an assault at a movie theatre midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AURORA, CO - JULY 23: Crime scene tape surrounds the Century 16 movie theater where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage last Friday, on July 23, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. Suspect James Holmes, 24, allegedly went on a shooting spree and killed 12 people and injured 58 during an early morning screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises.' (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 25: Aurora police top brass commander Jack Daluz (R), Roger Cloyd (C) and division chief Kevin Flynn visit the makeshift memorial across the street from the Century 16 movie theater on July 25, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. Twenty-four-year-old James Holmes is suspected of killing 12 and injuring 58 others on July 20 during a shooting rampage at a screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Seen from the air, blood-stained footprints dot the back of the Century 16 movie theatre where suspect James Holmes went on a shooting rampage during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured including 9 in critical condition . Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Seen from the air, police continue to investigate outside the Century 16 movie theatre where suspect James Holmes went on a shooting rampage during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured including 9 in critical condition . Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Law enforcement officers prepare to disarm the booby-trapped apartment of suspect James Holmes after he went on a shooting rampage at nearby Century 16 movie theatre during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured. Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody and are now dealing with various devices and trip wires in the apartment. (Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Seen from the air, police continue to investigate outside the Century 16 movie theatre where suspect James Holmes went on a shooting rampage during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured including 9 in critical condition . Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Law enforcement officials tow nearby cars as they prepare to disarm the booby-trapped apartment of suspect James Holmes after he went on a shooting rampage at nearby Century 16 movie theatre during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured. Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody and are now dealing with various devices and trip wires in the apartment. (Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 21: Law enforcement officials carry buckets from the apartment of James Holmes, the suspect in the Century 16 movie theatre shooting, on July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and over 59 injured including 9 in critical condition. Police have the suspect, twenty-four year old James Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - JULY 20: Police break the window of the apartment of of James Holmes, the suspect of a shooting in a movie theater July 20, 2012 in Aurora, outside of Denver, Colorado. According to reports, 12 people have been killed and 59 wounded when James allegedly opened fire inside the a movie theater showing the 'The Dark Knight Rises.' Police have James, 24, of Holmes of North Aurora, in custody. (Photo by Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)
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