Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

In Colorado this morning, authorities will file formal charges against James Holmes. He's the lone suspect in the shootings at a movie theater outside of Denver. Twelve people were killed and 58 others were injured, some of them critically. Today's hearing is the next step in what could be months of preliminary proceedings before the 24-year-old is actually tried. From member station KUNC, Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The judge has barred law enforcement and attorneys from speaking publically, ruling that James Holmes' right to a fair trial could be jeopardized. But plenty of attorneys not directly associated with the prosecution or defense are talking. And it's widely assumed that prosecutors this morning will file dozens, if not more than a hundred, first-degree and attempted murder charges against Holmes.

KAREN STEINHAUSER: If a bullet flies by your head but doesn't hit you, that's attempted murder.

SIEGLER: Karen Steinhauser is the former chief deputy district attorney for Denver.

STEINHAUSER: The prosecution is going to allege that he was trying to kill those people as well, regardless of whether or not they actually were struck by a bullet.

SIEGLER: Prosecutors may also seek the death penalty for Holmes. Prior to the judge imposing the gag order, Arapahoe County district attorney Carol Chambers said that decision would only come after consulting with victims and their families.

CAROL CHAMBERS: If the death penalty is sought, that's a very long process that impacts their lives for years.

SIEGLER: Even a preliminary hearing or a plea from Holmes is still several months out. After today, attorneys on both sides will continue combing through thousands of pages of police reports and evidence. Holmes' court appointed defense attorneys are Tamara Brady and Daniel King, who come from a statewide pool of public defenders. They were tapped because of their experience representing high profile murder suspects, says David Kaplan. He was Colorado's chief public defender until 2006.

DAVID KAPLAN: It certainly is increasing pressure when you have this kind of scrutiny on it, but you still at the end of the day, close the door and do what you're trained to do. and that's defend Mr. Holmes to the best of your ability.

SIEGLER: Kaplan and other legal experts say defense attorneys may try and paint Holmes as someone who's deeply troubled and unfit for trial.

KAPLAN: I think there's no great stretch to suggest that Mr. Holmes has some serious mental health issues.

SIEGLER: An insanity plea could be one way to try and avoid the death penalty.

MICHAEL RADELET: But I suspect that this will not be a death penalty case.

SIEGLER: University of Colorado at Boulder sociology professor Michael Radelet is an expert on the death penalty. He says that reason may be due to economics more than anything else. As D.A. Chambers alluded, death penalty cases can take decades and costs to counties and the state run in the millions.

RADELET: I think that when all the factors are looked at, that the district attorney in this case, Carol Chambers, despite her long record of supporting the death penalty, will conclude that this is not where we want to go with this case.

SIEGLER: Colorado has had only one death row execution since 1967. And Chambers has caught fire for what some of her critics call an aggressive pursuit of capitol punishment during her tenure. But former Denver deputy D.A. Linda Steinhauser says Chambers was also faced with an unusually high number of homicide cases where there was pressure to seek it.

STEINHAUSER: I don't think that this is a case where we could say, well, one D.A. might be more inclined to seek the death penalty.

SIEGLER: Steinhauser calls this case unprecedented for Colorado, pointing out that in Columbine the shooters there killed themselves.

STEINHAUSER: I mean, this is just beyond what we've seen here in terms of a case where a prosecutor has to make that determination.

SIEGLER: District Attorney Chambers is term-limited from office in January, so the final decision may rest with whoever replaces her.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: