CENTENNIAL, Colo. - As attorneys prepare a questionnaire for the 6,000 potential jurors that may be called in the movie theater shooting case, the court ordered that the document warn individuals their service could last six to eight months.
"The Court agrees with the defendant that it is better to err on the side of overestimating the duration of the trial. Accordingly, the Court will instruct prospective Jurors that individual voir dire will last approximately two to three months and that the trial itself may last four to five months," District Court Judge Carlos Samour wrote in a court order.
A footnote says that the estimate accounts for two or three weeks of reviewing the questionnaires and selecting jurors, two months for the prosecution to make their case, three weeks for the defense and a capital sentencing hearing if accused shooter James Holmes is convicted.
The attorneys defending Holmes and the prosecution were unable to reach an agreement on several aspects of the jury questionnaire, prompting Samour to hold a hearing Monday and write an order deciding many of the disputed issues.
In another important decision, Samour placed a rephrased question about potential jurors' preconceptions about mental health providers on the questionnaire.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 charges and was subsequently sent to a state mental health hospital for an evaluation. No records from the evaluation were made public, but the prosecution has subpoenaed the notes of two doctors who are also likely to be called to testify.
Samour also rewrote a 2-paragraph-long question asking "whether they think that people should be able to plead not guilty by reason of insanity."
Curiously, the entire question is redacted from the document.
Other elements of the questionnaire decided by Samour's order are:
- Several background questions submitted by the prosecution will be included, despite the defense's assertion they would be of little value.
- Prospective jurors will not be asked to provide their current address.
- Prospective jurors will see a list of witnesses, attorneys and staff and asked to indicate if they recognize any names.
- Several follow-ups to questions about "certain biases" will be included, although Samour says there is no way to ensure they will be answered "as completely and accurately as possible."
- Questions relating to mental health issues will appear under a subhead labeled either "Mental Health" or "Mental Illness"
- The questions will be numbered sequentially.
Legal analyst David Beller told 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zellinger those picked for the jury will earn $50 a day.
"That's the concern with this system, is you either end up with individuals who are very, very poor and are happy to have $50 a day or you'll end up with individuals who are very, very rich," Beller said. "It can be a huge financial hardship on many jurors because certainly they may make well over $50 per day, but unfortunately under Colorado law that's all they're entitled to."
He said potential jurors can try to be excused if the $50 a day isn't enough for them.
"Financial hardship is certainly one of the reasons why a juror may argue that they cannot sit on the jury, and then the judge would ultimately decide if that's a good enough reason or not to excuse the juror," said Beller.
Holmes' trial is scheduled to begin in February.