Jury selection for the trial of James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, took an unexpected step forward this week when the court released 2,000 unneeded prospective jurors.
The trial's jury pool of 9,000 people was the largest ever in U.S. history when the first of three phases in the selection process began on Jan. 20. For the past two weeks, groups of about 250 jurors have arrived at the courthouse in Centennial, Colorado, to fill out an 18-page questionnaire on various topics, including the death penalty and insanity. Court officials expected the first step to take at least a month. But since the court is excusing 2,000 potential jurors who aren't needed for the trial, the initial phase of the process will end on Feb. 9. Judge Carlos Samour, who is presiding over the case, had planned for the questionnaire phase to end on Feb. 13, The Associated Press reported.
Lawyers ultimately will choose 12 jurors and 12 alternates to decide if Holmes was mentally ill when he allegedly killed a dozen people and wounded scores more. Beginning on Feb. 11, lawyers will call back the individuals who weren't part of the 2,000 recently let go and weren't excused on the basis of their answers to the questionnaire. From there, individual interviews will narrow the pool to about 120 jurors, a phase officials reportedly expect to last through the spring. An eventual two-day group questioning will mark the third step and thus end the jury selection process.
Holmes, now 27, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder after he allegedly opened fire at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight” inside the Century Aurora 16 movie theater in July 2012. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity; it was one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. Last April, prosecutors made public their plans to seek the death penalty against Holmes. He was a graduate student at the University of Colorado prior to his arrest.
If jurors find Holmes guilty, they will then decide if they wish to recommend the death penalty. If they find him not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes will enter a state institution that provides treatment for the mentally ill.
The initial jury summons previously were cut to 7,000 notices when a couple thousand were deemed "undeliverable" or excused.
The jurors who are ultimately picked for the case will be expected to serve for as many as six consecutive months, on a wage of $50 per day. They were all summoned from the state’s Arapahoe County. The jurors, lawyers, and potential witnesses are forbidden from speaking with the media.
Holmes’s trial was postponed multiple times in the two-and-a-half years since the deadly shooting, including the time it took for attorneys on both sides to debate whether he should undergo a second mental health evaluation.
Opening statements for the months-long trial are expected to begin by June. The trial could last through October.