CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A judge accepted James Holmes’ long-awaited plea of not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday and ordered him to undergo a mental evaluation, an examination that could be a decisive factor in whether the Colorado theater shooting suspect is convicted and sentenced to die.
The judge also granted prosecutors access to a hotly contested notebook that Holmes sent to a psychiatrist shortly before the July 20 rampage, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured in a bloody, bullet-riddled movie theater in suburban Denver.
Taken together, the three developments marked a major step forward in the 10-month-old case, which at times has inched along through thickets of legal arguments or veered off on tangents.
Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
He now will be examined by the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, but it’s not known when the evaluation will begin or how long it will take.
Hospital officials have said that before they meet with Holmes, they want to review evidence in the case, which prosecutors said totals nearly 40,000 pages.
Judge Carlos Samour Jr. tentatively scheduled the exam for Aug. 2, but said he would postpone it if hospital officials request more time. Samour indicated that he still hopes to begin Holmes’ trial in February.
Holmes, 25, shuffled into court with his wrists and ankles shackled, wearing a long, bushy beard and dark, curly hair that was slicked back.
Samour read Holmes a five-page list of consequences of the insanity plea, and asked if he had any questions.
“No,” Holmes answered in a clear, firm voice. It was only the second time since his arrest that he has spoken in court, other than occasional whispered exchanges with his attorneys.
The findings of the mental evaluation will become evidence in Homes’ trial, but they are not the final word on whether he was legally insane at the time of the shootings. The jurors will determine that.
If their verdict is not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes would be committed to the Mental Health Institute indefinitely.
He could theoretically be released one day if doctors determine that his sanity has been restored, but that is considered unlikely.
If their verdict is guilty, jurors then would decide whether Holmes will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong caused by a diseased or defective mind.