Colorado Shooter Case Could Impact Capital Punishment's Future

The way James Holmes burns through money, he ought to be part of the government. At a highly secure Courtroom 22 of the Arapahoe County Courthouse II, we heard testimony today about burnt American money sent by Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" earlier this year, to his “one time” doctor at the government run CU Medical School.

Most people present today for the Holmes “sanctions” hearing were getting paid by the government to be there. Arapahoe County sheriffs surrounded the streets around the courthouse with squad cars. Sharpshooting deputy sheriffs were visible on the roofs of the two courthouse buildings. Inside Courtroom 22, eight uniformed and armed sheriffs stood guard. Double metal detectors preceded everybody’s entry.

A section of the courtroom was reserved for victims, and it was mostly empty. That was a good thing.   Sitting through today’s hyper-technical hearing and fishing expedition would have been tortuous to those who have suffered enough.

Eight members of the prosecution team were assembled on its side of the courtroom. Seven public defender personnel were gathered on the other side. The witnesses were law enforcement agents from various jurisdictions.

Incoming Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler sat in the gallery directly behind elected DA Carol Chambers. Chambers, a death penalty proponent, sat behind her prosecutors, just inside the bar. The case has been sufficiently delayed that Brauchler, not Chambers, will have to make the death penalty call.

Brauchler and I had a perfect angle to look at Holmes who did not appear nearly as crazy as he once did. However, Holmes’ eyes seemed extraordinarily wide open most of the time. The orange/red hair is gone. In its place is dark brown mane of hair which includes a thick beard and mustache. Holmes was pasty white and thin in his Arapahoe County inmate scrubs with white socks and sandals.

Regardless of outcome, today’s hearing was a success for Holmes' defense team. These Colorado public defenders are dedicated to keeping Holmes alive, and extra hearings and delays are always good. Holmes’ defense team claims somebody in the government violated Holmes’ rights to privacy by looking through confidential patient/doctor material and then leaking it to the media (Fox News).

Who might have done this? It’s like a bad Agatha Christie murder mystery play in this Colorado courtroom. Who was in the mail room at the Anschutz Medical Center who could have possibly done such a dastardly thing?

Only it is not so dastardly. None of what was seen materially aids the prosecution which has more than enough evidence of Holmes’ premeditated atrocity. This hearing allows the defense to argue somebody in the government violated Holmes’ rights and argue therefore, that the appropriate sanction is to disallow the government to even seek capital punishment.

Will that result occur? That is very doubtful. But if Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester finds anything suggestive of governmental misconduct, this ruling will be a first step in what the defense hopes is an accumulation of governmental errors. It will be the cumulative effect of errors that the defense will perpetually argue precludes execution of this defendant.

These public defenders, and their allies in the abolish capital punishment movement, well know the stakes. If Holmes does not get the death penalty, who can? The Holmes case is a chance for these public defenders to drive a stake through the heart of capital punishment in Colorado and perhaps the nation. It is a war of attrition that the defense could well win big with Holmes.

The death penalty may have died a little more today in a Colorado courtroom.


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