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Accused Colorado gunman's lawyers may enter insanity plea over his objections

Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013. REUTERS/R.J. Sangost
Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado March 12, 2013. REUTERS/R.J. Sangost

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Lawyers for accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes are questioning the constitutionality of the state's insanity defense law, court records released on Tuesday show, and raising the possibility that they may enter an insanity plea over his objections.

Public defenders for Holmes, 25, said in a filing that there is "significant uncertainty and confusion" in Colorado law surrounding an insanity defense in the context of a case where prosecutors are seeking capital punishment.

That puts defense attorneys in a quandary, they wrote, because they cannot vouch for "the cognitive ability of their mentally ill client to understand complex legal concepts that few lawyers understand."

"That is one reason why Colorado's insanity statute provides a mechanism for entering (an insanity plea) over the objections of a defendant in some circumstances."

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside an Aurora, Colorado, cinema in July during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

The shooting rampage killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 70 others. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.

The judge overseeing the case at the time entered a standard not guilty plea for Holmes in March, but said public defenders could change that to not guilty by reason of insanity if they show sufficient cause.

Holmes' lawyers previously sought to have the state's insanity defense law declared unconstitutional, arguing that it could require Holmes to divulge information that could be used against him at trial and at sentencing if there is a conviction.

Such disclosures, they argued, violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination, but the judge rejected that argument as premature.

Prosecutors last week outlined the aggravating factors that make Holmes eligible for the death penalty, including lying in wait, killing a child under age 12, and committing murder in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stacey Joyce)