Notes by reporter Brandon Johansson from the first day of the Aurora theater shooting trial of James Holmes as the long process of jury selection gets underway:
CENTENNIAL | Among the first wave of prospective jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial to report to court Tuesday, three checked their phones, and one fell asleep — maybe.
Another three were dismissed because they no longer live in Arapahoe County, two because they had a note from their doctor and another whose address is actually in Elbert County despite what Arapahoe records said.
In those six cases, Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said the jurors were not supposed to be dismissed, but instead the jury commissioner was supposed to send him their proof of residency so the prosecution and defense could chime in as to how to handle them.A preliminary artist sketch of James Holmes, with gray jacket and glasses.
Another juror appeared in court early Tuesday and was mistakenly sent to another courtroom that was preparing for jury selection. That juror was dismissed by another judge and Samour said he would let that judge’s dismissal stand.
As for the jurors who may have used their phones, prosecutors noted to the judge that one of their staffers saw them use their phone while in court, but they didn’t ask that the judge take any action.
And then there was the juror who a prosecution staffer said might have fallen asleep.
Judge Samour seemed confused as to whether the prosecution thought the prospective juror did or did not fall asleep.
Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman said he couldn’t be sure.
“There were certain times when I was growing up that my mom thought I was asleep and I wasn’t,” Orman said. “So you never know.”
The first wave of jurors were filling out their lengthy jury questionnaire Tuesday afternoon and the two sides are expected to receive the completed questionnaires around noon on Wednesday.
CENTENNIAL | The first wave of potential jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial were warned Tuesday to steer clear of any news reports or conversations about the case.
Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. — reading the same prepared remarks he is expected to read to as many 7,000 prospective jurors in the coming months — told the group that steering clear of any discussion of the case is a daunting task, but one they need to stick to.
The initial group Tuesday was expected to include between 130 and 150 prospective jurors.
Samour also told the jurors that they are not allowed to visit any of the locations connected to the case, including the movie theater where James Holmes is accused of killing 12 and wounding 70 more in July 2012.
The prospective jurors are expected to begin filling out their questionnaires this afternoon.
More jurors are scheduled to report to court tomorrow morning and afternoon, with two sessions nearly every day until a jury of 24 is seated.
Holmes sat quietly at the defense table, leaning back in his chair throughout the first session.
CENTENNIAL | Court officials expect between 130 and 150 jurors to report to court Tuesday afternoon for the first day of jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting trial.
In court Tuesday morning, Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. said that while court officials have called 250 people to appear, only 188 of that initial group remain eligible. Some potential jurors have been dismissed because they have connections to people involved in the trial, and Samour said other summonses were undeliverable.
The first session is set to start at 1 p.m.
At each session, Samour said he expects between 130 and 150 prospective jurors will report.
After sending out a total of 9,000 summonses, Samour said there are about 7,000 potential jurors remaining in the pool.
When the jurors report, they will hear a 30-minute introductory speech from Samour, watch an 18-minute video that all jurors in the state watch and then receive their juror questionnaires.
According to court documents, the questionnaire includes 75 questions, but in court Tuesday, Samour said the questionnaire has 77 questions.
With that many questions, Samour said he expects some prospective jurors to need more than two hours to complete it, while others could finish in about 45 minutes.
“It is difficult to tell how long it’s going to take them to fill it out,” he said.
In an October order laying out the final version, Samour bluntly admitted that at 75 questions, it was lengthy.
“The questionnaire is extensive,” he wrote.
Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor who now teaches law at University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said jury questionnaires often try to extract some personal information about the jurors — including their personal experiences with mental illness, law enforcement or other extremely private issues.
Because of that, the questionnaires are rarely, if ever, seen by the public.
“When we are asking jurors for a lot of very personal and sensitive information, the goal is that the information be between the judge and the attorneys,” she said.
Steinhauser said she has tried cases where after the lawyers were done reviewing prospective juror’s answers, they were required to return the answers to the court.
In this case, Samour has ordered the two sides to destroy the questionnaires — including any electronic copies — once they are done with them.
In his opening remarks to jurors — a final version of which were released this month — Samour will tell them they should answer honestly and in detail because those that don’t fill the questionnaires out in detail stand a better chance of being called back for individual questioning.
From February through May, Samour said some jurors will be dismissed and others will be called back for a second round of questioning as the court tries to whittle the pool to 100 to 120 potential jurors.
That group will be called back a third time in May or June for a two-day group questioning session, he said.
But, Samour said, those are only hopeful estimates.
“It is very difficult to estimate how long the process of selecting 24 jurors will take. Our best estimate is that it will take us until approximately May or June to select a jury,” he said.
The trial itself — including a possible death penalty phase — will then run from May or June into September or October, he said.
CENTENNIAL | The judge in the Aurora theater trial abruptly ended a hearing about videotape evidence from the Arapahoe County Jail on Tuesday, citing concerns that testimony could taint the jury pool.
It wasn’t clear from testimony Tuesday what the videotape evidence shows, other than that it shows Holmes in the jail sometime after being booked in July 2012. Holmes’ defense team said jail staff deleted some video without checking with them first.
The defense asked for the hearing after they said jail staff failed to turn over some video evidence until Jan. 9, 2015, months after they had asked for it and just a few weeks before the trial is set to start.
With the first wave of prospective jurors set to report to court Tuesday afternoon, Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. said he would like to wait to finish the hearing until after jurors have received the initial admonishment about avoiding media coverage of the trial.
With 9,000 prospective jurors called — and with about 7,000 expected to report — Samour said the process could take several weeks.
Tuesday afternoon marks the first time Holmes will appear in court in the presence of potential jurors, so he is allowed to wear civilian clothes. He sat quietly next to his lawyers on Tuesday morning wearing a black blazer, a blue and white striped shirt and khaki pants.
Unlike previous hearings, where Holmes appeared wearing a jail jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled, Holmes’ hands were not cuffed at the start of the hearing. His left leg, however, was chained to the defense table with a cable that was hidden from the jury’s view.
The first prospective jurors are scheduled to report to the courthouse at 1 p.m.8:30 a.m. CENTENNIAL | Jury selection in the Aurora theater shooting trial is set to start Tuesday afternoon after a brief morning hearing on evidence recently turned over to the defense.
The accused gunman, James Holmes, is due in court at 9 a.m. for a hearing about a videotape that prosecutors recently gave to the defense.
It isn’t clear what the videotape shows, and Tuesday’s hearing likely won’t shed light on it. In a heavily-redacted order last week setting Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. ordered the two sides not to discuss details about the videotape in open court.
The defense contends the tape should have been turned over to them sooner.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 and injuring 70 more during a July 2012 shooting rampage at an Aurora movie theater. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Starting Tuesday afternoon the first 250 of 9,000 prospective jurors will report to court. Jury selection is expected top last several months with opening statements starting in May or June.7:30 a.m.
Quiet so far. Just a few members of the media here to pick up credentials.
James Holmes’ trial will likely stretch from now until August, lawyers said previously.
Judge Carlos Samour said he plans to select 24 jurors, a number that includes 12 alternates.
Two dozen jurors is an uncommonly large number — typical murder trials in Arapahoe County often have just a few alternates in addition to 12 jurors — but Samour said it is necessary.
There is a motions hearing slated for this morning, and the first prospective jurors appear at 2 p.m.