Judge in Colorado theater massacre case allows ballistics evidence

DENVER Wed Sep 3, 2014 6:03pm EDT

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 overseeing murder proceedings against accused Colorado movie theater gunman James Holmes ruled on Wednesday that evidence linking bullet fragments and shell casings to weapons belonging to Holmes will be allowed at trial.

Attorneys defending the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate accused of killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 others two years ago had sought to preclude the testimony from his upcoming murder trial, arguing that firearms analysis is subjective and not based on scientific fact.

But Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ruled that he will allow an agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to testify that he traced the ballistics evidence to three firearms owned by Holmes.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder and attempted murder charges linked to the July 2012 shooting during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in a suburban Denver theater.

Defense lawyers have conceded Holmes was the lone shooter, but have said he was in the throes of a “psychotic episode” at the time of the rampage.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, and said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.

In his ruling, Samour noted that numerous courts have upheld the validity of firearms analysis, but said the agent can testify only that he reached his conclusions to a “reasonable degree of scientific certainty.”

Although the case against Holmes hinges on his mental state at the time of the shootings, legal analysts say defense lawyers have an obligation to make a record for all possible appellate issues.

“The public defenders have to review every piece of evidence and raise all legal challenges, particularly in a death penalty case,” said longtime Colorado defense lawyer Mark Johnson, who has been following the case.

Samour heard testimony last week on a similar defense challenge to fingerprint analysis testimony. He has not ruled on that issue. Holmes' trial is set to begin with jury selection in December.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)

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