Theater shooting jury asked to decide between sane or insane, not who did it

Posted at 7:51 PM, Apr 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-27 08:24:25-04

The Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting trial is not about finding the person responsible. It is about whether he was sane or insane at the time of the shooting that killed 12 people.

"It's not about who did the shooting, it's not about how much people have suffered, it's about whether James Holmes knew the difference between right and wrong at the time he was in the theater doing these horrendous things," said 7NEWS legal analyst Dan Recht, a defense attorney.

But with 12 families wanting justice, and 70 other victims able to take the stand for themselves, 7NEWS asked Recht about how the mental health debate might affect the trial.

"The defense will argue that the position of the families of the victims means nothing when it comes to sanity," he answered.

Only a small portion of the evidence in the voluminous case has ever been made public. From past hearings and court documents, we know that the jury could be exposed evidence including the disturbing 911 calls and graphic forensic evidence.

"The prosecution is going to argue that we have a right to present as many of these photographs that we need to, to give the jury a complete picture of what happened that night."

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Recht believes the prosecution is likely to present a lot of that evidence, even though this jury is being asked to decide between "sane" or "insane" and not asked to decide who did it.

"The more calculating it was, the less people will think, 'Those are the actions of an insane man,'" he said.

But two important parts of the debate over the defendant's mental state have remained almost completely concealed from the public: The results of the two court-ordered mental health evaluations.

No one outside the judge, the attorneys and the doctors have been able to see the results of those evaluations.

Under Colorado law, the jury will need to find that the defendant was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the alleged crime, which is called a "culpable mental state."

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