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Larimer's girlfriend says outcome of Colorado case won't change what happened

Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 10:27 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 8:15 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
James Holmes (left) and defense attorney Tamara Brady appear in district court March 12 in Centennial, Colo., for his arraignment. Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado theater massacre, entered his long-expected insanity plea at a hearing Tuesday.

A former Algonquin resident who survived the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting that killed 12 people said that no matter the outcome of the criminal case, it won’t fix what happened.

Julia Vojtsek, who was the girlfriend of Crystal Lake native John Larimer, who was killed during a midnight screening of the “The Dark Knight Rises,” has been closely following James Holmes’ case through the criminal court system.

Holmes is accused of opening fire in a packed Denver-area movie theater last summer, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. He is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

On Tuesday, Holmes’ plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was accepted by a Colorado judge. The plea sets the stage for a lengthy mental evaluation.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. also determined that prosecutors can have access to a notebook that Holmes sent to a psychiatrist ­before last summer’s rampage.

Larimer, a Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class, was part of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. He worked as a cryptologic technician. He was the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Navy.

Larimer died protecting Vojtsek, a 23-year-old originally from Algonquin. At the time of the shooting, Vojtsek was visiting Larimer and her father. She has since moved to Centennial, Colo., and regularly attends Holmes’ court appearances.

“Whatever happens to [Holmes] is not going to change anything,” Vojtsek said. “People are irreversibly damaged by what has happened. He could be in a mental institution, be in jail, or get the death penalty, it’s not going to change anything.”

Vojtsek, who has been dealing with post-traumatic stress, has been going to therapy since Larimer’s death.

There’s been “a lot of grieving, a lot of sadness,” Vojtsek said. “Everything has changed since then.”

Holmes’ lawyers repeatedly have said he is mentally ill, but they delayed the insanity plea while arguing that state laws were unconstitutional.

They said the laws could hobble the defense if Holmes’ case should ever reach the phase where the jury decides whether he should be executed. The judge rejected that argument last week.

On Tuesday, Samour ordered Holmes to undergo a mental evaluation at the state hospital in Pueblo as soon as the hospital is ready to conduct it.

Evaluators want to review the 40,000 pages of evidence in the case first, so it’s unclear when it will happen. Samour set a tentative deadline of Aug. 2 for Holmes’ evaluation but indicated he would grant more time if doctors want it.

The hearing came as the court released dozens of pretrial motions filed by defense attorneys challenging the admissibility of ballistics, handwriting and mountains of other evidence, and signaling Holmes will seek a change of venue because of pretrial publicity.

Lawyers also argued briefly in court about whether prosecutors should have access to a notebook Holmes sent to psychiatrist Lynne Fenton. Media reports have said the notebook contains drawings depicting violence. Defense lawyers argued Fenton never received the notebook so prosecutors shouldn’t have access to it.

Prosecutors say police would like to do unspecified “additional processing” on the notebook. Samour ordered the notebook to be turned over next week.

Prosecutors say Holmes spent months buying weapons, ammunition and materials for explosives and scouted the theater in advance of the July 20 shooting. He donned police-style body armor, tossed a gas canister into the seats and opened fire, they say.

The insanity plea is widely seen as Holmes’ best chance of avoiding execution, and possibly his only chance, given the weight of the evidence against him. But his lawyers delayed it for weeks, saying Colorado’s laws on the insanity plea and the death penalty could work in combination to violate his constitutional rights.

The laws state that if Holmes does not cooperate with doctors conducting a mandatory mental evaluation, he would lose the right to call expert witnesses to testify about his sanity during the penalty phase of his trial.

Defense lawyers argued that is an unconstitutional restriction on his right to build a defense. They also contended the law doesn’t define cooperation. Samour rejected those arguments last week and said the laws are constitutional.

Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong caused by a diseased or defective mind. If jurors find Holmes not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.

He eventually could be released if doctors find his sanity has been restored, but that is considered unlikely.

If jurors convict him, the next step is the penalty phase, during which both sides call witnesses to testify about factors that could affect why Holmes should or shouldn’t be executed. The jury then would decide whether Holmes should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

If jurors impose the death penalty, it would trigger court appeals and open other possibilities that would take years to resolve.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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