Suspected Aurora theater killer’s mental state focus of hearings this week

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Photo: The Aurora movie theater where 12 people were killed in a July 2012 mass shooting
The Aurora theater where 12 people were killed in a July 2012 mass shooting.

Holmes is accused of carrying out the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012.

He was evaluated by a state-appointed psychiatrist last fall. Now, the prosecution wants another evaluation by its own experts, saying the first one is "inadequate" and "unfair."

The judge in the case is holding closed door hearings on the request this week.

The original evaluation was in part to determine Holmes' psychological state at the time of the shootings and whether he was suffering from any mental defects that would make him less culpable. Those findings are sealed.

But, the prosecution's request signals that some part of the evaluation found that Holmes was insane at the time of the attack or that he had psychological issues that would make him exempt from the death penalty, according to Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor. She told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that this kind of request isn’t typical.

"But the concern is that jurors pay close attention to what…that type of evaluation shows and obviously the prosecutors in this case are not happy with that evaluation,” Steinhauser said.

It’s also unusual for a judge to decide to close court hearings to the public, Steinhauser said. But in this case, Judge Carlos Samour determined that it could jeopardize James Holmes’ right to a fair trial.

“The issues go to the heart of the case and the court believed that there wasn’t any type of reasonable alternative to be able to address these concerns without full closure of these hearings,” Steinhauser said.