CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Police did not allow accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes access to lawyers for 13 hours after he asked for legal counsel following his arrest, and ignored demands by his lawyers that he not be interrogated, defense attorneys said on Thursday.
The disclosure surfaced during a hearing where public defenders sought to bar as evidence against him in his upcoming murder trial statements that the 25-year-old former neuroscience graduate student made to police in the hours after the shooting.
Holmes is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire in a cinema in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a midnight showing of a Batman film in July 2012, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.
The California native has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if he is convicted at trial, which is scheduled to begin in February.
Defense lawyers, hoping to exclude statements Holmes made to investigators in the hours after the shooting, contend he had requested to speak to a lawyer fairly soon after being taken into custody. At that point, questioning temporarily stopped, but Holmes did not see a lawyer for 13 hours, his lawyers said.
They also said at an evidence hearing on Thursday that authorities denied a public defender immediate access to Holmes that day, and that he was later questioned about bombs in his booby-trapped apartment even after a lawyer retained on his behalf told authorities not to question him.
The revelations could raise questions about the validity of statements given to authorities by Holmes that day, although the law does allow questioning of a suspect who has invoked a right to remain silent for public safety reasons, a legal expert said.
“The issue here is that if they denied him access to his lawyers in order to keep him isolated to continue interrogating him, then that raises constitutional issues,” said Colorado defense lawyer Mark Johnson, who has tried more than 100 felony cases.
Defense lawyers said that in the hours following the shooting, Holmes’ mother retained a private Denver defense attorney to represent her son.
That attorney, Iris Eytan, testified that she called the jail where Holmes was being held and said no one from law enforcement should talk to him. Later, the lead homicide detective later called her to ask permission to speak to Holmes.
“He said the request was being made on behalf of FBI Director (Robert) Mueller,” Eytan said. “I said no.”
The detective, Craig Appel, confirmed on Thursday that he had spoken with Eytan, and to a public defender she had authorized to speak to her client. Appel said he told the public defender that he could not speak to Holmes “at this time.”
Another detective testified earlier that when detectives first questioned Holmes, he told police he wanted a lawyer and the interrogation was halted.
But FBI bomb technician Garrett Gumbinner said that as police swarmed over Holmes’ nearby apartment - which he told them he had rigged with explosives - a decision was made to see if Holmes would help them defuse the bombs. Holmes agreed to talk to investigators about the explosives.
Appel also confirmed under questioning that it took 13 hours between the time Holmes requested a lawyer and when he was ultimately able to speak to one.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney