Colorado high court backs new sanity exam for movie theater gunman

DENVER Thu May 8, 2014 6:38pm EDT

Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013. REUTERS/R.J. Sangosti/Pool

Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/R.J. Sangosti/Pool

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DENVER (Reuters) - The Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a trial judge's decision granting prosecutors a second psychiatric examination of accused theater gunman James Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering 12 moviegoers in 2012.

Acting without comment, the court denied a defense motion seeking to reverse an opinion by Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour finding that Holmes' first sanity exam was flawed and ordering him to submit to another.

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from the shooting spree inside a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

The rampage killed 12 and wounded 70 others. Holmes' lawyers have acknowledged that their client was the lone gunman but claim that he suffers from a chronic mental illness and was in the "throes of a psychotic episode" when he opened fire.

Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty for the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate if he were convicted.

Holmes, 26, underwent an initial court-ordered psychiatric evaluation last year after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, though the findings have not been made public.

Prosecutors challenged the results of that exam as "incomplete and inadequate," winning a court order from Samour in February calling for a rare second evaluation.

The new round of testing, which is to focus solely on Holmes' mental state at the time of the killings, was suspended by Samour until the state Supreme Court had ruled on a defense request to block a second exam. That stay will now presumably be lifted.

The high court also refused to hear a second defense motion seeking to overturn a ruling by Samour to allow surviving victims of the massacre to hear trial testimony, even if they are called as witnesses.

The murder trial is set to begin in October, but defense lawyers have asked Samour to move the trial out of Arapahoe County, saying "pervasive media coverage" and the impact of the mass shooting on the community makes it impossible to seat an impartial jury there.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Grant McCool)

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