Judge keeps gag order in Colorado shooting case
James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, July 23, 2012. (Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)
The Associated Press
Published Monday, August 13, 2012 10:27PM EDT
DENVER -- The judge in the deadly Colorado movie theatre shooting case refused Monday to lift a gag order that prevents the University of Colorado from releasing information about former graduate student and suspect James Holmes.
Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester also ruled that he would release some court documents in the case.
James Holmes, a former Ph.D. student at the university, is accused of going on a shooting rampage on July 20 at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie in suburban Denver, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
Members of the public will have access to a list of documents filed, as well as some submitted by attorneys. Some key documents, including the arrest affidavit that outlines law enforcement's case against Holmes, will remain sealed. Documents being released Monday were routine documents that are standard in criminal cases that include allowing defence attorneys to inspect the crime scene.
In one document, however, defence attorney Daniel King argued that Holmes be allowed to sit with his attorneys at the defence table, and not in the jury box where Holmes sat during his initial appearance July 23.
King said that the deputies placed him there out of concerns for Holmes' safety "due to the apparent presence, statements, and behaviour of individuals in the audience of the courtroom."
King argued that seating Holmes away from the defence table gave the impression that Holmes was expressing threats or exhibiting dangerous behaviour, threatening a fair trial. That request was granted.
During the initial hearing three days after the shooting, at least two men stared at Holmes during the hearing, which concluded without incident.
Sylvester said the case remains under investigation and releasing that information would harm Holmes' right to a fair trial and be contrary to public interest.
In his order on the University of Colorado, he said, he "will not jeopardize the integrity of the process and the truth-seeking functions" of the courts by authorizing the premature release of records.
Last week, Holmes' lawyers said he suffers from a mental illness but didn't disclose any details about his condition. Defence attorney Daniel King said Holmes sought out university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton for help weeks before the shooting.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to establish they had a doctor-patient relationship. Sylvester said he may reconsider his order about what information the university can release after that issue is settled.
Sylvester said he considered arguments by prosecutors and defence attorneys that hundreds of witnesses and victims have not been interviewed during "the critical early stages of the investigation."
"It is certainly in the public's interest that law enforcement officials conduct a complete investigation thoroughly and efficiently," Sylvester wrote.
Steve Zansberg, the attorney representing a consortium of 21 media organizations, including The Associated Press, said in a prepared statement that Sylvester's partial release of documents brings "much needed transparency to this judicial proceeding."
But he added: "We are disappointed that the affidavits of probable cause remain under seal at this time, but are hopeful that the Court will revisit that issue sometime in the not too distant future."
Documents that will be released under Sylvester's order include Holmes' defence attorney's request that their own experts be present for scientific testing of evidence. In documents, the evidence to be tested includes guns, bullets, shell casings and biological samples, which can include DNA, blood, or other bodily fluids.
Police said Holmes methodically stockpiled guns, ammunition and material for explosives for months and that he had received shipments at both the university and his nearby apartment.