The man accused in the deadly Colorado theater shootings wants to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, his lawyers said yesterday, despite their fears that the plea could severely hamper his ability to mount a defense against the death penalty.
James Holmes is charged with more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder in the July 20 assault that killed 12. Prosecutors announced last month they would seek the death penalty.
Holmes was widely expected to plead insanity given the compelling evidence against him, but his attorneys put it off for weeks, saying state laws on the death penalty and insanity overlap in ways that violate his constitutional rights and his ability to mount an effective defense. A standard not guilty plea was entered for Holmes in March.
One of their worries: If Holmes doesn't cooperate with doctors who will evaluate his sanity at the state mental hospital, he could be barred from calling witnesses to testify about his mental condition during sentencing. That would make it nearly impossible for his lawyers to use his mental state as an argument against the death penalty.
"If you don't cooperate during the evaluation phase, you lose the right to call witnesses in your own behalf who could help convince a jury that your life should be spared," said Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor. -- AP