Theater shooting defense lawyers try to limit gore, emotion

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James Holmes Attorneys Fight To Keep Jurors Focused On Insanity Plea


CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting trial are trying hard to keep jurors from knowing the worst details of the massacre, fighting to prevent survivors from revealing how badly they were injured and objecting to photos showing even small amounts of blood.

Their persistent efforts frustrated the judge who this week told them, "The defendant has a constitutional right to a fair trial. The defendant doesn't have a constitutional right to a sanitized trial."

James Holmes' defense attorneys want to keep the trial focused on whether he was legally insane, not the nightmare of the attack, concerned that the gory details could sway jurors.

"This is a particularly difficult case for that sort of argument," said Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson, who is not involved in the Holmes case. "It's not humanly possible to separate gruesomeness from the theater shooting trial. With so many shots fired, so many people shot, so many lurid memories recounted by so many witnesses, the jury will be revolted. They've already hated what they've seen, and it's not even close to over."

But Holmes' lawyers are trying.

In the three weeks since the trial opened, dozens of witnesses and police officers have offered harrowing details of their experiences in the theater, where Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others during a packed midnight premiere of a Batman movie.

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James Holmes Aurora 'Dark Knight' shooting & pre-trial
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Theater shooting defense lawyers try to limit gore, emotion
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 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)
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 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)
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)
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)
AURORA, CO - JULY 20: The Century 16 movie theatre is seen where a gunmen attacked movie goers during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' July 20, 2012 in Aurora, 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. (Photo by Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)
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)
Arlene (L) and Robert Holmes, the parents of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes, arrive at the court house after a midday recess during a hearing in the Arapahoe County Justice Center on April 1, 2013 in Centennial, Colorado. It was announced that District Attorney George Brauchler will seek the death penalty for suspect James Holmes who is charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes in the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
(R), the parents of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes, arrive at the courtroom for a hearing in the Arapahoe County Justice Center on April 1, 2013 in Centennial, Colorado. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for suspect James Holmes, who is charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes in the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
CENTENNIAL, CO - SEPTEMBER 20: In this photo provided by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, James Holmes poses for a booking photo September 20, 2012 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes is charged with 24 counts of murder and 116 counts of attempted murder in the July 20, shooting rampage at an opening night screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)
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Defense attorneys have argued that survivors shouldn't be allowed to share the long-term impacts of their injuries, even suggesting that a pregnant woman who was paralyzed in the gunfire be barred from talking about her miscarriage.

They opened the third week of the trial by arguing that the testimony of a fingerprint examiner who helped identify the 12 bodies should be excluded because it would be needlessly upsetting to jurors. They were unsuccessful.

"The upsetting thing is that the defendant went into a theater of innocent people and shot," Prosecutor Rich Orman told the judge. "The upsetting thing is the defendant shot a little girl."

Defense attorneys were also unsuccessful later in the week, when they tried to keep jurors from seeing glimpses of blood in the theater as another crime scene investigator showed hundreds of photos of bullet holes that scarred upholstered seats and walls.

"The blood is incidental for what the picture is being introduced for," the judge said, adding that the jury expects to see blood because it was a "bloody scene."

Robinson said the defense objections are strategic but also a way of building grounds for an appeal, should jurors find Holmes guilty and sentence him to death. Their frequent objections also make it hard for prosecutors to tell a continuous story.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, are doing just the opposite, trying to ensure witnesses' emotional recollections are played throughout the trial in dramatic ways, so jurors don't forget them. As testimony closed for the week, prosecutors called Heather Snyder, a bartender who testified about losing the two fingers on her right hand in the shooting. After showing pictures of her hand wrapped in bloody gauze, Prosecutor Lisa Teesch-Maguire asked Snyder to "raise your hand as high as you can" for jurors to see.

District Attorney George Brauchler later asked another witness to hold a pointer like an assault rifle to show the way he saw Holmes spraying gunfire into the crowd.

Jurors will see still more crime scene photos when the trial begins again Monday.

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