There’s an easy way to help ensure admitted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes gets a fair sanity trial — and guarantee that the victims themselves be allowed to watch court proceedings if they choose.
Holmes’ defense attorneys last week appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court in an effort to prevent victims from sitting through the trial if they’ve been called as prosecution witnesses. The high court on Thursday wisely turned back that request without comment.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour had already ruled against the defense, saying that the state Constitution specifically addresses the issue, ensuring victims access to court proceedings of their attackers. It does. And the amendment was created for just these types of circumstances.
Holmes’ guilt or innocence isn’t the subject of this trial. Holmes’ attorneys have already admitted to prosecutors and the court that the former Anschutz doctoral student plotted and carried out one of the most violent and deadly public shooting attacks in the country. Holmes killed 12 people and injured another 70 during the rampage.
This trial is about why he did it. And for the hundreds of people trapped, killed, shot, injured or terrorized at that theater during Holmes’ July 20, 2012, massacre, that question continues to dominate their lives. It’s unthinkable that the number of victims who suffered, and continue to suffer, because of Holmes would be precluded from finding out for themselves how it is that mental illness compelled this man to plan and execute so much violence. These direct victims, this entire community has suffered too much.
The sheer scope of the massacre and these trial proceedings themselves have taken the characteristic of a war crimes trial. Holmes admittedly unleashed so much pain and suffering, the only questions left deal with whether he was psychologically incapable of stopping himself, how that could happen, and how is it he remained at large and able to pull off such an attack without others stopping him.
It may well be that witnesses to the shooting can provide details that have bearing on those questions, but police have already painstakingly interrogated every potential witness. If the defense is concerned about these victims changing their testimony on the stand after watching parts of the trial, they only need to depose witnesses in advance, giving two previous accounts to weigh against a possible story on the stand.
For many of these theater massacre victims, just getting a report on the jury verdict can never be enough to try and make sense of what Holmes did, and how it is he did it.
Any victim who chooses should be permitted to watch trial proceedings. Colorado Supreme Court justices rightly turned back the defense request. The stakes are too high for so many victims, and the system itself allows for a way to ensure the integrity of witness testimony and ultimately, a fair sanity trial for James Holmes.