Accused Colorado gunman's statements about explosives ruled admissible

DENVER Thu Jan 9, 2014 10:38pm EST

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andy Cross/Pool

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DENVER (Reuters) - A judge in the case of an accused Colorado theater gunman said on Thursday that most statements made by James Holmes to law enforcement about explosives inside his booby-trapped apartment without his lawyer present can be used at trial.

Public defenders said at a pre-trial hearing in the case that an FBI agent and a police detective had questioned Holmes after his lawyer had told police not to speak to him, which they said violated his due process rights. Those statements should not be allowed at trial, defense lawyers said.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour agreed with prosecutors, who said that a public safety exception allowed authorities to question Holmes over his lawyer's objections.

The judge noted in his 126-page ruling that police and bomb technicians had few options other than detonating the various homemade bombs, which could have caused an uncontrollable explosion and fire to the entire building, or put officers at risk had they gone into the unit.

"Under the exceptional circumstances present in this case, the officers' questions about the devices in the apartment were justified by an objectively reasonable need to protect the public and first responders," Samour wrote.

Holmes, 26, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the July 2012 shooting rampage inside a suburban Denver cinema that killed 12 movie-goers and wounded or injured 70 others.

The former neuroscience graduate student has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Holmes if he is convicted.

Holmes's lawyers have challenged nearly all of the evidence amassed against their client, who underwent a court-ordered sanity examination last summer. The results of that evaluation have not been made public.

Samour said in his ruling that Holmes voluntarily told officers about how he rigged the explosives, which helped them defuse the bombs safely.

The officers did not coerce, threaten or intimidate Holmes, who understood what the officers were after and appeared "relaxed" during the interview, Samour said.

However, Samour ruled that some statements Holmes made unrelated to the explosives issue could not be used against him. It is unclear what that those exchanges related to because they were redacted in his order.

Samour has postponed the murder trial indefinitely as he considers whether to allow a second sanity examination of Holmes that prosecutors are seeking. Hearings on the issue are set for later this month, and Samour has closed the proceedings to the media and the public.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Ken Wills)

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