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RJ Sangosti/AP Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes, seen here in July. Holmes' lawyers say they may enter a plea of not guilty, by reason of insanity, later this month.
# Aurora
Colorado cinema shooting suspect may plead not guilty by insanity
James Holmes entered a ‘not guilty’ plea by default – but lawyers may now plead insanity to spare the death penalty.

A JUDGE in the United States has ruled that the chief suspect in the Colorado cinema shootings last year should be allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity – while saying he would not necessarily accept the plea.

Judge Carlos Samour said he would decide on May 31 whether he would accept a revised plea from James Holmes, the prime suspect behind the Aurora shootings at a Batman screening last July.

The trial judge had entered a straightforward ‘not guilty’ plea in March, after Holmes himself declined to enter a plea.

At that time, Holmes’ lawyers said they were not yet ready to enter a plea for their client, who is suspect of killing 12 people and injuring another 70 at the incident at a midnight premiere of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

Holmes’ court-appointed attorney Daniel King said today he was now willing to enter the insanity plea – which could not have been entered in March because a mental evaluation had not been completed at the time.

‘We have an opinion by professionals as to his condition’

“We now have a diagnosis…  We have an opinion by professionals as to his condition,” King said, adding: “Mr. Holmes’ mental illness has not changed” in the 62 days since he was arraigned.

Judge Samour said he would advise Holmes about the impact of a change of plea at the next hearing on May 31. Once that is done, it will be up to Holmes to enter the plea, and the judge to decide whether it would be accepted.

Before that hearing, however, the judge intends to rule on several defence motions – including a challenge to Colorado’s laws on the death penalty.

Holmes’ lawyers also want to know if any statements he makes during psychiatric evaluations can be used against him in a death penalty sentencing phase, in the event his insanity plea is rejected.

Prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty in the case, in which Holmes faces 166 counts of capital murder and attempted murder.

Witnesses at the shooting said Holmes threw smoke bomb-type devices – leading some to believe they were part of the Batman movie’s special effects – before opening fire with weapons including an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-calibre pistol.

When Holmes first appeared in court last year, he had bright orange hair and looked befuddled. He has since let his hair colour grow out, and now has curly brown hair and a beard.

Additional reporting by AFP

Read: Prosecutors to seek death penalty in US cinema shooting