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Prosecutors in Colorado theater-shooting case say insanity defense law constitutional

Colorado shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes (L) sits with public defender Tamara Brady during his first court appearance in Aurora, Colorad
Colorado shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes (L) sits with public defender Tamara Brady during his first court appearance in Aurora, Colorad

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the case against accused Colorado movie theater gunman James Holmes urged a judge to reject a defense motion to declare the state's insanity defense law unconstitutional, court filings released on Wednesday show.

Last week, attorneys for Holmes asked Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester to declare Colorado's insanity defense law unconstitutional because it compels defendants who enter insanity pleas to cooperate with court-appointed psychiatrists.

That scenario could force Holmes to provide potentially incriminating statements that could be used against him not only at trial but in sentencing should he be convicted, defense lawyers argued.

Prosecutors countered, in their response made public on Wednesday, that federal and state courts had both upheld the legality of laws that require those who raise an insanity defense to submit to mental-health examinations, because there are other remedies available to preserve a defendant's rights.

"It is well established law in Colorado that submitting to court ordered evaluation does not violate a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination," the prosecution motion said.

Holmes, 25, is scheduled to enter a plea next week, but the flurry of pleadings in the case puts that date in doubt.

He is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for a shooting spree last July in which 12 moviegoers were killed and 58 others wounded during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.

Holmes, a former University of Colorado neuroscience graduate student, was bound over for trial in January after a three-day preliminary hearing in which prosecutors presented evidence that the California native spent months plotting the mass killing.

Prosecutors have 60 days after a plea is entered to announce whether they will seek the death penalty.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said last month that he had added a death penalty lawyer to the prosecution team, indicating he was considering going after capital punishment in the case.

Legal analyst Craig Silverman, who has followed the case closely, said defense lawyers would put out scores of motions hoping that an appellate issue would surface that could keep their client off death row.

"These motions are all mini-insurance policies in case there is a death penalty verdict," said Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor. "But there's no guarantee that any of them will work."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)

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