Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- James Holmes, accused of killing a dozen people and wounding scores more in a July shooting spree at a Colorado movie theater, goes before a judge Monday seeking to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Holmes, who faces 166 charges in connection with the attack in Aurora. Defense lawyers have maintained that Holmes is mentally ill. Legal experts say the legal issues are complicated.
"The question is not whether or not he's mentally ill," said Pete Maguire, a former Colorado prosecutor now in private practice. "The question is whether he is legally insane under the statute."
Maguire, who prosecuted several cases in which defendants entered similar pleas, said Holmes will be examined by state doctors at the secure state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colo.
Doctors will review case reports, interview witnesses, examine whether he was taking any relevant prescription drugs, and possibly administer truth serum to Holmes, Maguire said.
Under Colorado law, state doctors must decide if Holmes knew right from wrong, and even if he did, whether he was unable to stop himself due to mental illness.
"They can take into account almost anything that would bear on his state of mind," Maguire said. "This is art as much as it is science and medicine."
Maguire said it's rare for state doctors to rule someone not guilty by reason of insanity, which suggests Holmes' attorneys have already had their own expert examine him and are relatively confident in the outcome.
Maguire said no matter what the doctors in Pueblo rule, either the prosecutors or the defense will object to the finding, further delaying the case.
For Theresa Hoover, whose son AJ Boik, 18, was killed in the shooting, the question of Holmes' sanity has a simple answer. Hoover said Holmes' decision to stockpile weapons and ammunition in the months before the shooting makes that clear.
"What he did was nothing short of evil. He absolutely knew what he was doing was wrong," Hoover said. "I think he's evil, and there's a difference between evil and crazy. I don't think he's insane by any means."
Maguire said it's likely the state experts will agree with Hoover's assessment; he said the case ultimately will end in a conviction.What happens next, however, will be up to a jury.
Under Colorado law, death penalty cases have two phases. The first focuses on guilt or innocence. Then, jurors decide whether someone found guilty should be executed.
"Unless he's found insane, there's no way this isn't going to end in a conviction," Maguire said. "It's a horrendous crime, and a lot is going to depend on how this jury views him as a human being. Does the community see the need for death to bring justice?"