Judge Accepts James Holmes’s Insanity Plea In Aurora Shooting Case

Yesterday, a Colorado Judge accepted Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes’s defense of not guilty by reason of insanity:

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A judge accepted James Holmes’ long-awaited plea of not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday and ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation — an examination that could be a decisive factor in whether the Colorado theater shooting suspect is convicted and sentenced to die.

The judge also granted prosecutors access to a hotly contested notebook that Holmes sent to a psychiatrist shortly before the July 20 rampage, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured in a bloody, bullet-riddled movie theater in suburban Denver.

Taken together, the three developments marked a major step forward in the 10-month-old case, which at times has inched along through thickets of legal arguments or veered off on tangents.

Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

He will now be examined by the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, but it’s not certain when the evaluation will begin or how long it will take. Hospital officials have said that before they meet with Holmes, they want to review evidence in the case, which prosecutors said totals nearly 40,000 pages.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. set a tentative date of Aug. 2 for the exam to be complete but said he would push that back if hospital officials request more time. Samour indicated he still hopes to begin Holmes’ trial in February.

This isn’t entirely surprising. Although accepting the plea was within the Judge’s discretion given that Holmes had already pled not guilty without a mental health defense, rejecting the plea change would have clearly been an automatic grounds for appeal. How this impacts the case is unclear. As I’ve noted before, Colorado law on the insanity defense is, as far as I know, unique in the United States in that it places the initial burden of establishing the Defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense on the prosecution rather than the defense. What that means for how a trial might proceed is unclear since we know nothing about how Holmes might be evaluated by mental health professionals. Nonetheless, this is a case that will raise some interesting questions regarding how we treat mental health in this country.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Caj says:

    Insanity plea my eye! There is nothing insane about any of these mass murdering pieces of crap. They know exactly what they are doing and intend to cause as much damage as possible.
    Insanity is always the excuse used by lawyers of these disgusting evil people. How anyone can defend any of those people is beyond me! How do you defend the indefensible???

  2. bill says:

    @Caj: true, you have to be crazy to kill someone for fun! anyhow, this is mainly a ruse to keep him out of the genpop as he would not last long there. hopefully someone “gets” to him wherever he is, lame oxygen thief that he is.

  3. Tyrell says:

    Just wondering – will the mental hospital records of Ed Gein ever be made public?