CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — While the 2012 Aurora theater shooting was horrific, killing 12 people and injuring 70, the process of assembling a jury to try defendant James Holmes is far more subdued, with moments ranging from the mundane to the surreal.
Jury selection began in January, when more than 9,000 prospective jurors were summoned in what experts called the biggest jury pool in U.S. history. After filling out lengthy questionnaires, thousands were asked to return for individual questioning that began Feb. 11 and has so far yielded more than 50 people who can return for still more screening.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. hopes to seat a jury to hear opening statements on April 21 or April 27.
Defendant James Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If the jury finds he was sane, they will decide whether he should be put to death.
Days are long, with attorneys questioning, at most, 12 people a day, sometimes grilling one person for hours at a time. Prospects fight nerves and tears as attorneys press them on their feelings about capital punishment, mental illness and their own personal problems, such as financial hardship or sick relatives.
Attorneys were concerned it would be hard to find 12 jurors and 12 alternates who can judge Holmes without bias, but the process is moving more quickly than expected, with attorneys largely agreeing on which prospective jurors to immediately release. The next phase of questioning could be more contentious as attorneys argue over which people should make up the final panel. Questioning continues this week.
One woman told the court she is clairvoyant with the ability to see the “truth of a situation.” She was dismissed after telling the judge she could not impose the death penalty — even after promising she would not apply her skills as an “energy reader” and “religious science practitioner” during testimony.
“I just don’t see death as a punishment,” she told Samour. “It’s a natural part of life.”
Also dismissed: A man who said the death penalty would be appropriate in a “zombie apocalypse” case in which people were high on drugs and eating human flesh; a witness in another murder trial; and a man who said his views on the death penalty were shaped almost entirely by a Japanese anime cartoon called “Death Note.”
“You meet some interesting people in this job,” Samour said after the clairvoyant left the room.
The judge dismissed a woman who said she has regular contact with 25 witnesses in the case because she works at a research facility in the same building where Holmes once was a neuroscience graduate student. The judge also released an aspiring police officer who said he received academy training from officers who responded to the shooting.
But the judge told a woman who comforted a friend mourning the loss of co-workers in the shooting that she needed to return. Higgs, the defense attorney, wondered whether she had too much “baggage” to serve, but the juror insisted her friendship would have no bearing on the verdict.
JUROR NO. 495
Juror No. 495 seemed like an ideal candidate. She told the judge she could presume Holmes is innocent, would be able to consider a life sentence after emotional testimony and could get over her concerns about seeing graphic images. But she paused when a defense attorney asked whether she would be able to find Holmes not guilty by reason of insanity.
In that event, Holmes would be sent to a state mental hospital and could one day be released, attorney Rebecca Higgs explained. Would it be hard to consider that plea?
“With the biases I come here with, yes,” the juror told her.
Prosecutor Karen Pearson said that if Holmes is deemed insane, it’s unlikely he would be freed anytime soon.
“It’s not simply that they would open the doors of the state hospital and he would walk out,” Pearson said.
The juror said that made her more comfortable. Samour asked her to return.