Media coalition argues that the next movie theater shooting hearing should be open to the public

DENVER - 7NEWS is joining the fight for public access to keep the courtroom open next week for a hearing about the sanity of the movie theater shooting defendant.

James Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 and injuring 70 in a movie theater. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. As a result of his plea, Holmes underwent a mandatory sanity evaluation last summer.

The conclusions haven't been made public, but prosecutors are asking for further evaluation.

It's an unusual request that will be debated in court of Tuesday, but Holmes' attorneys want the public and the media kept out of the court. They've already succeeded in keeping the content of their related written motions secret.

In fact, no one outside the court and the attorneys know the content of any of the documents that led to the scheduling of this upcoming hearing. Only the titles of those documents have been made public.

The defense argues that a hearing of this type "is not one to which the public enjoys a qualified First Amendment right of access."

7NEWS and the rest of the media coalition, however, are arguing that the First Amendment and Colorado Constitution both protect the public's right to attend pretrial proceedings.

Our petition states, "the public's interest in observing the arguments of counsel and evidence presented in support of the People's request [for an additional sanity evaluation], as well as the public's ability to be informed of and assess their elected prosecutor's reasons for seeking such relief, is as great as when a defendant's competency is at issue."

Prosecutors have also objected to keeping the public out of the upcoming hearings. In a motion filed Tuesday, prosecutors primarily argued that victims of the 2012 massacre should be allowed to attend hearings scheduled next week, but they objected to barring anyone.

Meanwhile, the defense specifically tried to strike at the interests of the press.

"The only role the public or the media is likely to play if allowed access to this hearing is to seek out attention-grabbing headlines based on evidence that may ultimately not be admissible or admitted at trial," the defense wrote in their argument.

In our response, the media coalition argues that is inaccurate.

"The fact that the press may report evidence from the hearing that may not be admitted at trial does not, by itself, pose an incurable danger to the defendant's fair trial rights."

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