Centennial Colorado

The first part of my coverage from the Century 16 theater shootings

Welcome back. I am in Centennial, Colorado, a southern suburb of Denver which is just two miles east of 1-25. In the parking of the Arapahoe County District Courthouse I am surrounded by satellite trucks from all the major TV networks and the portable stages from which the reporters are sending in their daily commentaries.

Before I go any farther let me take you back to July 20, 2012 and the reason we are all here. Along with other theaters across the country, the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was featuring the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Several of the theater’s many screens were featuring the movie and the sold out midnight shows had received a lot of attention in the media.

The movie had been on for about thirty minutes when a man dressed in black entered one of the auditoriums through the front exit door nearest the screen. He threw a canister of tear gas into the audience and began shooting, spraying bullets into the crowd from three different weapons, a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. In a matter of minutes twenty people were killed and seventy people were wounded, many while trying to escape. The shooter was wearing full body armor and a gas mask which made it difficult for people to defend themselves. After the attack he calmly left the theater through the same exit door and police found him standing next to his car in the parking lot outside the theater.

We now know that the shooter was twenty-seven year old neuro-science student James Holmes and his trial started on Monday. Legal experts here are saying that this could be the most complicated trial in history, largely because of Holmes’ psychological condition.

Security is tight as D.A. George Brauchler and Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. have laid out strict rules for courtroom observers and the press. In an unusual move, the full component of jurors and alternates is being seated and the identities of the actual jurors will not be known until after the verdict. The 19 women and 5 men are being escorted to and from the courtroom in secrecy all of which is unprecedented.

Holmes is represented by attorney Tamara Brady who had fought to have the trial moved to another locale because she does not believe he can get a fair hearing in this area. She has said that the case is “just too big.” Holmes has 165 charges against him including many for first degree murder and if he is found guilty the jury will have to decide between life in prison or death by lethal injection. A unanimous vote of all twelve jurors would be required for Holmes to receive the death penalty.

On the other hand, if Holmes is found “not guilty by reason of insanity” he could be sent to the Colorado State Mental Institute in Pueblo where the length of his stay would be determined by doctors. According to Denver Magazine, in Colorado the average stay in a mental health facility for individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity from 1995-2013 is 7.3 years. Although this is unlikely in Holmes’ case, like other high profile patients such as John Hinkley, he could eventually enjoy a level of privileges that would make him essentially a free man.

By all accounts from the judge, the attorneys and the reporters here in the parking lot of the courthouse, this trial will last several months and cost millions of dollars before it is over.