CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Attorneys for Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes argued Monday that police coerced and misled him into talking to them about bombs that were found in his apartment after the shootings, and they said his statements shouldn't be used against him.
Prosecutors scoffed at the claim and said police had to ask Holmes about the bombs because they were a threat to human life.
Prosecutors and the defense are debating what evidence can be used against Holmes when he goes on trial next year on charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and during pretrial hearings this month, the two sides are grappling over evidence that could be used to undermine the insanity claim.
That includes statements Holmes made to police when they questioned him about the explosives in his apartment. Law enforcement officers have testified they found intricately planned bombs meant to divert police from the theater while the shootings were going on. None of the bombs exploded.
Prosecutors could use that alleged diversionary tactic to argue Holmes knew the theater attack was a crime — a blow to the insanity defense, which requires a defendant be unable to distinguish between right and wrong.
Holmes was questioned about the bombs before he was allowed to speak with an attorney, even though police have acknowledged he had asked approximately 13 hours earlier to see a lawyer.
Defense attorney Kristen Nelson said Thursday that Holmes felt pressured to talk to police because he was held "in a room where he was cut off from the rest of the world," and because the officers implied they wanted to know about the bombs to protect people's lives, not to build a case against him.
Nelson also said Holmes was displaying signs of mental illness, playing with evidence bags, fidgeting or suddenly sitting stone-still.
Police should have allowed a lawyer to be present "to protect this mentally ill man from being the instrument of his own conviction and execution," she said.
Prosecutor Rich Orman said court precedents allowed police to question Holmes without an attorney present because of the threat the bombs posed.
"It is the functional equivalent of a gun to their heads. A bomb that is going to go off in the city of Aurora," Orman said.
Attorneys are also arguing over evidence from Holmes' apartment, car, phone and computers, as well as telephone and banking records. The judge hasn't said when he will rule.
Even if much of the evidence is thrown out, prosecutors still have a strong case, because defense attorneys have acknowledged Holmes was the shooter.
However, losing the evidence would make it harder for prosecutors to persuade jurors that Holmes was sane. If jurors find he was insane, Holmes could not be executed but would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.
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