CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - State psychiatrists evaluating the mental health of accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, charged with killing 12 moviegoers last summer, will get more time to complete their examination, the judge in the murder case ruled on Tuesday.
“I don’t think I have a whole lot of choice,” Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said during a hearing called after the head of the Colorado Mental Health Institute requested six extra weeks to complete a court-ordered exam of the defendant.
But Samour said he was inclined to stick with his original trial start date of February 2014 and to compress the calendar of pretrial motions and hearings to stay on schedule. He ordered lawyers for both sides to review his proposed calendar revisions and let him know whether they had any objections.
Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from a deadly shooting spree in a suburban Denver multiplex last July during a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The rampage killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 58 others.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, requiring him under state law to submit to an in-depth battery of psychiatric assessments before trial.
Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty for the defendant, a California native and onetime neuroscience doctoral student, if he is convicted.
Citing the “extraordinary amount of documentation” in the case, mental health institute superintendent William May told the judge in a letter that doctors would need until mid-September to finish examining Holmes and to prepare a report.
The judge had originally imposed a July 31 deadline for completing the psychiatric evaluation and had set the month of August aside for hearings on dozens of pretrial pleadings, many of them dealing with the sanity exam. Those motions will now have to be heard later in the year.
For his latest appearance in court, Holmes had his hair cut short and his shaggy beard trimmed, but as usual, he sat impassively during the 30-minute proceeding.
The judge was expected to post details of his revised pretrial schedule later in the day.
Separately, Samour took time to review the case of a New York-based Fox News journalist, Jana Winter, who is fighting efforts to force her to reveal sources she used in a story about the Holmes investigation five days after the massacre.
Citing confidential law enforcement officials, Winter reported that Holmes sent a notebook to his psychiatrist, detailing his plans to commit mass murder. Holmes’ public defenders subpoenaed Winter demanding that she name the sources, who they claim violated a gag order imposed in the case.
Winter, who is contesting the subpoenas in both New York and Colorado courts, says she is protected by journalist shield laws.
Her lawyers filed a motion last week asking Samour to allow them access to the notebook, which the judge has already ordered turned over to the government.
Both government and defense lawyers objected to sharing the notebook with lawyers for the reporter. As prosecutor Rich Orman asserted in court, “We’d be giving it to Fox News,” a unit of News Corp (NWSA.O).
The judge did not make a ruling, and Winter is due back in court in Colorado on September 30. (Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernard Orr)