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Colorado judge rebuffs death penalty challenges in theater massacre case

Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013. REUTERS/R.J. Sangost
Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013. REUTERS/R.J. Sangost

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado judge overseeing the murder case against the gunman charged with killing 12 moviegoers has denied the latest efforts by defense lawyers to have the state’s death penalty law ruled unconstitutional, court documents show.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour said on Friday the issues raised in three separate motions filed by lawyers for James Holmes about the lack of a grand jury indictment have already been litigated, and the law has been upheld by both state and federal higher courts.

Holmes, 26, is accused of murder and attempted murder for opening fire in a suburban Denver cinema in July 2012, killing 12 moviegoers and injuring 70 during a screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers have acknowledged he was the sole gunman, but they say the onetime neuroscience graduate student suffers from a chronic mental illness.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted. Public defenders have filed a flurry of motions seeking to have Colorado’s death penalty law declared unconstitutional, all rejected by Samour.

The latest challenges centered on three different theories for why, because a grand jury indictment was not handed down against Holmes, he should not be executed.

Holmes's attorneys argued not obtaining a grand jury indictment in the death penalty case violates two separate sections of the U.S. Constitution and also the Colorado constitution, but the judge rejected those arguments.

“Because the defendant’s motion is directly contradicted by precedent from the United States Supreme Court and the Colorado Supreme Court, it fails,” Samour wrote in one of the orders. “Accordingly, it is denied without a hearing as devoid of merit.”

The trial is set to begin in October.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Mohammad Zargham)

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