The lawyers representing James Holmes, the man accused of opening fire on a Colorado movie theater and killing 12 theatergoers, are continuing their efforts to have the state’s death penalty law ruled unconstitutional.
According to court documents released in September, Holmes’ public defenders challenged the state’s death penalty law on the grounds that lawmakers had passed an inordinate amount of “overlapping laws” regarding capital punishment. The lawyers pointed out that Colorado has executed only one convicted murderer in the past 46 years.
To bolster their argument against the death penalty, defenders cite Holmes’ not guilty plea by reason of insanity. Recently, prosecutors have asked that Holmes undergo further evaluation of his sanity, suggesting that his first examination may have found him to be insane. If doctors conclude that Holmes is, in fact, insane, it will be much harder for prosecutors to persuade a jury to sentence him to death.
For those who point to the youngest victim, six year old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, as a primary reason to seek the death penalty, the public defenders argue that “designating death-eligibility soley on the status of the victim is unconstitutionally arbitrary,” according to the motion.
Prosecutors have also asked the judge to limit what witnesses can say about the death penalty if Holmes is convicted. Specifically, they asked the judge to bar any testimony about how the state puts inmates to death should the trial proceed to sentencing. They have also asked that testimony regarding how Holmes’ family and friends would be affected should he be sentenced to death and about what prison is like for those sentenced to life without parole be barred. Under Colorado law, if the jury convicts Holmes of first-degree murder, that same jury must then decide whether he should receive the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.
Adding more uncertainty to the trial, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper indefinitely delayed the execution of a prisoner on death row in May citing questions regarding the fairness of the state’s death penalty system and the availability of the drugs used to carry out the lethal injection.
Should James Holmes receive the death penalty? Are Colorado’s laws regarding capital punishment fair? Would life in prison without the possibility of parole constitute sufficient justice?
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