Aurora theater shooting case could end Monday with reporter's testimony, Holmes' plea deal offer

If case goes to trial, defense will plead insanity

DENVER - The Aurora theater shooter’s case could be resolved as early as Monday if prosecutors allow James Holmes to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. A Fox News reporter will also be asked testify about her anonymous sources Monday, which could influence the outcome of the hearing

Holmes, a 25-year-old former University of Colorado graduate student in neuroscience, is charged with 166 counts in the July 20 massacre. The shooting, which occurred during a midnight showing of the "The Dark Knight Rises," left 12 moviegoers dead and injured 70 people.

The outcome of Monday’s hearing hinges on two developments from Wednesday:

Fox News reporter Jana Winter will appear at the hearing and be asked to identify the anonymous sources that allegedly gave her information about the contents of a notebook James Holmes sent to his CU psychiatrist.

In addition, documents released Wednesday indicate that James Holmes’ defense made an offer to plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty.

If the prosecution agrees, the deal could resolve the case with Holmes accepting life in prison without the possibility of parole.

-- Jana Winter’s anonymous sources --

Winter invoked the Colorado Shield Law, which could allow her to keep her sources confidential, when she asked the judge to quash the defense subpoena requiring her to appear in court Monday to reveal her anonymous sources and produce notes or other documents related to the story.

The New York-based reporter cited unnamed law-enforcement officials in a FoxNews.com report where she wrote that Holmes had sent his psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, a notebook with drawings that foreshadowed the July 20 theater attack, which killed 12 and injured 70.

Holmes' lawyers contend that law enforcement officials violated a judge's gag order by speaking to Winter. The defense wants Winter to identify her sources for the story and is requesting sanctions against any officials involved in the leak.

The prosecution said the judge should cancel the Monday hearing where Winter would be compelled to reveal her sources. Prosecutors also asked the judge to throw out the defense motion seeking sanctions against whoever leaked the information to the reporter because the defense also violated the gag order by publicizing Holmes' offer to plead guilty.

On Wednesday, a judge granted Winter’s lawyers’ request for oral arguments in court, but denied their request that she skip Monday’s hearing.

-- Possible guilty plea deal --

The accused movie theater shooter's defense offered to enter a guilty plea Wednesday in exchange for avoiding the death penalty in a two-page filing. The document says the offer was also made prior to Holmes' arraignment, but the prosecution has not accepted because they may decide to seek the death penalty.

The offer would resolve the case with Holmes accepting life in prison without any opportunity for parole.

Holmes' lawyers told the court they were not ready to enter a plea during a hearing on March 12, but Judge William Sylvester refused to wait and entered what he called the "standard" not guilty plea. That day, Sylvester told attorneys they could change the plea at a later date.

With the judge's entry of that plea on Holmes' behalf, a 60 day countdown began to the deadline for prosecutors to decide if they'll seek the death penalty.

"The only impediment to a resolution of this case would be if the prosecution chooses to seek the death penalty," the document says.

The recent defense filing suggests the case could be resolved as soon as Monday if the prosecution agrees not to pursue the death penalty.

"Mr. Holmes is currently willing to resolve the case to bring the proceedings to a speedy and definite conclusion for all involved," the document says.

In court papers filed Thursday, prosecutors blasted the request as a publicity stunt.

Prosecutors suggested the defense publicly dangling an offer of a guilty plea was a ploy, "filed for the intended purpose of generating the predictable pretrial publicity."

The prosecution also said the defense had violated the gag order barring attorneys and law enforcement agencies from publicly discussing the case outside court.

Prosecutors compared the defense attorney's act of "improperly" publicizing the plea offer to the leak that prompted the Fox News reporter's article.

The recent defense filing suggests the case could be resolved as soon as Monday if the prosecution agrees not to pursue the death penalty.

The document also indicates that the defense is continuing to explore a mental health defense and would use that if the case goes to trial.

A not guilty by reason of insanity plea carries risk for the defense. Prosecutors would gain access to Holmes' mental health records, which could help their case if the evidence of insanity is weak.

If Holmes does plead insanity, the proceedings would be prolonged further while he is evaluated by state mental health officials. With the judge entering the plea, prosecutors still don't have access to Holmes' health records.

If a jury were to agree he was insane at the time of the shooting, Holmes would be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. There would be a remote and unlikely chance he could be freed one day, if doctors find his sanity has been restored.

"The only reason for a DA not to accept this plea, is if they want to seek the death penalty and have the death penalty imposed and have Mr. Holmes executed," legal analyst Dan Recht told 7NEWS. "If this kind of plea bargain went through, you probably wouldn't hear much more evidence."

-- Families react to the plea offer --

Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was celebrating his birthday the night he was killed, said he would ultimately like to see the Holmes suffer the death penalty. Sullivan acknowledged his family's opinion is one of many but they are prepared for this to be a lengthy process.

"They have the guy who murdered my son and when they asked me, I said 'Yeah, I would like to see him put to death,' " Sullivan said. "But knowing that this is a long process, I'm prepared. We began to fortify ourselves for the lengthy process for however it ends up shaking out."

Meanwhile, Chantel Blunk, the wife of Jonathan Blunk, said she feels a plea may help her family gain some closure.

"I'm happy to hear he's [Holmes] taking responsibility and wanting to plead guilty," Blunk said. "Justice is really important to me, and no matter what happens to him, it will never bring my husband back."

The district attorney's staff has talked with each family member and the survivors of the shooting to get their opinions on what they would like to see happen. Those discussions will happen again Monday once the prosecution hears the entire plea deal.

-- A complete timeline of the case for mobile devices: http://ch7ne.ws/14ubM

 

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