Judge orders list of 4,000 potential witnesses trimmed in Aurora movie massacre case

Tim Skillern
Yahoo News
FILE -This June 4, 2013 file photo shows Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in court in Centennial, Colo. Holmes’ lawyers asked the judge Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 to give them more time to file motions and to set deadlines for prosecutors to turn over a list of witnesses they plan to call. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Andy Cross, Pool, File)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A judge told prosecutors in the Aurora theater massacre case Monday to pick up the pace cutting down the staggering number of possible witnesses in the murder trial of James Holmes.

As both sides bickered over the 4,000-person witness list, 
Judge Carlos A. Samour told prosecutors they need to provide a trimmed-down list to defense counsel sooner than later to avoid delaying the trial further.

In a 30-minute hearing, Holmes’ defense team said it wants that list as soon as possible — by Oct. 17, it said — even though the prosecution initially admitted it couldn’t even hand over a narrowed “good-faith” list until Jan. 10.

Samour didn’t seem swayed by the prosecution’s arguments, mostly because the trial is slated for February, and he said the defense couldn’t possibly prepare for that many witnesses in a few weeks.

“It seems to me you should be able to narrow it down somewhat,” Samour said. “Four thousand is a lot.” The district attorney’s office isn’t legally required to provide a list, but prosecuting attorney Jacob Edson said his office could issue it by Dec. 1.

“That’s the compromise we can realistically move forward with,” Edson said. Samour said he’d rule soon.

Holmes could be executed if found guilty of killing 12 and wounding 58 others at a midnight movie premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012. His attorneys maintain he is insane and months ago offered to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, but prosecutors rejected that in the spring. Holmes, who faces 166 counts, studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, where he was also seeing a university psychiatrist, prior to the massacre.

Holmes, clean-shaven and with his black hair slicked back, appeared in court Monday after a lengthy absence, the first glance the public has had of him since he left his Arapahoe County Jail cell for a mental health evaluation earlier this summer.

On June 4, the court ordered Holmes to undergo a sanity evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. The facility’s report, which was due at the court by Sept. 16, is not public, but the defense and prosecution have received the results.

Prosecutors asked for more than that on Friday, saying they want all testing materials, but the state attorney general’s office warned against investigative “fishing” and said that, broadly, those testing tools should be kept confidential because they could be unfairly used in upcoming cases.

“Disclosure would likely dilute and seriously impair the effectiveness” of future mental health evaluations, the attorney general’s office argued.

Late last week, attorneys filed a flurry of motions, mostly of them mental health-related issues, including whether psychiatrists who conducted the sanity exam can be subpoenaed and if Holmes’ defense can file further motions concerning the exam, even though the deadline to file pretrial motions has passed.