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Colorado judge defers on bid to move trial of accused theater gunman

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The Colorado judge presiding over the case of James Holmes, the man charged with mass murder in the shooting deaths of 12 people in a movie theater, ruled on Friday it was premature to consider moving the trial to another jurisdiction.

Last month, defense lawyers filed a motion seeking a change of venue, saying it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury locally due to pervasive media coverage of the shooting rampage, including evidence ruled inadmissible at trial.

While acknowledging that "publicity surrounding this case has been ubiquitous," Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour said he would defer ruling on whether to move the trial until lawyers question potential jurors.

Jury selection is set to begin in October for the trial of Holmes, 26, who is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the July 2012 shooting spree at a cinema in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Whether the publicity has been pervasive enough to prejudice a jury "before jury selection even commences is undoubtedly an open question," Samour wrote in his 12-page order.

In addition to the 12 moviegoers killed, another 70 people in the audience were hit by gunfire or otherwise injured.

Holmes, a onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate from Southern California has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense lawyers have conceded that he was the gunman, but say he was in the midst of a psychotic episode when he opened fire inside the theater.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Holmes is convicted.

Samour said jury summonses will be sent to some 6,000 Arapahoe County residents, and jury selection could take up to three months.

"The court continues to have unwavering confidence that, with counsel's assistance and abundant patience, it will be able to impanel a fair and impartial jury in Arapahoe County," Samour wrote.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and David Gregorio)

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