Defense attorneys for James Holmes ask for answers on insanity plea questions

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. - James Holmes' lawyers on Thursday asked a judge to answer legal questions before they guide their client to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The answers to those questions, however, may not ever actually impact the case.

Shooting suspect James Holmes' lawyers have requested to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The issues discussed in court Thursday would only apply to the case if the judge accepts that plea but Holmes is still found guilty by a jury at trial.

Holmes is charged with fatally shooting 12 people and injuring 70 in an Aurora movie theater last July. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The defense is concerned about a rule that would limit their ability to present expert testimony about Holmes' mental health at the sentencing phase, which would follow a conviction.

In Colorado, the same jurors hear and deliberate on the guilt and sentencing phases of a trial.

In particular, lawyers for the suspect asserted that they should be allowed to present expert testimony about Holmes' mental health, even if he doesn't cooperate with a state examination. They say it is unconstitutional to exclude such testimony if Holmes refuses to cooperate with the state's examination.

"A sentencer should not be limited from hearing and considering mitigating information," an attorney for the defense argued.

Prosecutors argued the laws are fair and their principles have been upheld by appeals courts. They also said it's too early to consider the matter.

The defense also asked for a definition of the term "cooperate," asking essentially if partial cooperation would be acceptable under this standard.

The prosecution said "cooperate" is a common word and should not require a definition by the judge.

The defense wants an answer to these questions before Holmes agrees to the conditions he must accept in order to plead insanity. A hearing about that will be held on May 31, and the judge said he would issue a decision on the constitutionality of these rules before that hearing.

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