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James Holmes' Lawyers Hint At Possible Insanity Plea Despite His Objections

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This courtroom sketch shows James Holmes being escorted by a deputy as he arrives at preliminary hearing in district court in Centennial, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Investigators say Holmes opened fire during the midnight showing of the latest Batman movie on July 20, killing 12 people and wounding dozens. (AP Photo/Bill Robles, Pool) | AP

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Attorneys for the Colorado theater shooting suspect suggested in a court filing Monday that they might be considering entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity over their client's objections.

They raised that possibility in a document that outlines their dilemma over how to give plea advice to James Holmes, who could be executed if he's convicted of more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder.

Holmes' lawyers say overlapping elements of Colorado laws on insanity pleas and the death penalty could violate his protection against self-incrimination, his right to present evidence in his own defense and other provisions of the U.S. and state constitutions.

Monday's court filing twice mentions the possibility of entering an insanity plea over a defendant's objections, noting that Colorado law allows that in some circumstances. However, the filing does not say Holmes' lawyers would take that route.

Holmes' attorneys are widely expected to mount an insanity defense and have said in court hearings and written in court documents that he is mentally ill. Holmes was being seen by a psychiatrist before the attack on a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie that killed 12 people and injured 70.

Defense lawyers said last month that Holmes could not enter a plea because his legal team had too many questions about the constitutionality of the Colorado laws. Judge William Sylvester then entered a not guilty plea on Holmes' behalf and noted it could later be changed to an insanity plea.

Monday's motion was in response to a list of cautions that Holmes would have to read and sign before he could enter an insanity plea. Sylvester issued the list, and a new judge on the case, Carlos Samour Jr., revised them.

One of the cautions says Holmes must cooperate with doctors during a mandatory mental health evaluation or he won't be able to present mitigating evidence about his mental state if he is convicted and a jury decides whether he should be executed.

That caution is at the core of the constitutional questions by the defense, said Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and now an adjunct law professor.

It's not clear how cooperation is defined, she said, and the question hasn't been tested in court since the laws were changed to their present form in the late 1990s.


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