Accusing the Colorado movie theater shooter's defense team of drumming up publicity and seeking a plea deal bargain that takes advantage of his potential insanity, state attorneys prosecuting the movie James Holmes have rejected an offer by his attorneys earlier this week to plead guilty. But it might not work. The offer, filed in Colorado court on Wednesday, claimed Holmes was ready to plead guilty, so long as the death penalty was taken off the table. In a response filed Thursday, prosecutors countered with this: "The people question whether this language was included in the Defense Notice in good faith, or whether it was a calculated attempt to improperly inject the issue of the purported defense 'offer' into the public discourse regarding this case," the response reads. It goes on to assert how confident the prosecution is in its case: "the defendant knows that he is guilty, the defense attorneys know that he is guilty, and that both of them know that he was not criminally insane."
Holmes faces 166 charges of murder and attempted murder after he opened fire in a movie theater last July in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were killed and another 58 injured, all while watching a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
The prosecution's response also accuses the defense of refusing to provide the prosecution with information needed to properly evaluate the offer, saying a plea agreement "is extremely unlikely based on the present information available to the prosecution."
The information the prosecution is seeking could possibly be the results of an independent psychiatric evaluation; Holmes's lawyers were expected to enter an insanity plea for their client. At an August 9 hearing, Holmes's defense told a judge their client is mentally ill. The prosecution and defense have battled several times over information relating to Holmes's mental health, including a notebook in which Holmes allegedly described a violent attack. The notebook is, however, protected by physician-patient privilege, as Holmes shared it with his psychiatrist. Speaking with the Associated Press, Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and current law professor, agreed that the prosecution wouldn't want to agree to a deal unless they how how much evidence the defense had to argue a mental health defense. "One of the issues the prosecution needs to look at is, is there a likelihood that doctors, and then a jury, could find that James Holmes was insane at the time of the crime?" she said.
In this case, a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" could be tricky for prosecutors to defeat. As we explained in January, Colorado law works differently than most, with the burden of proof being placed on the state. This means that the prosecution would have to prove Holmes is not insane, rather than the defense having to prove he is, as the law works in most other states.
Prosecutors are set to announce Monday whether or not they intend to seek the death penalty in Holmes's case. Colorado has only executed one person since 1977, after the Supreme Court's Gregg v. Georgia ruling reinstated capital punishment nationwide. There are currently only three people on death row in the state.