DENVER – Jury selection in the Colorado theatre shootings case will be open to the public and the news media, the judge said Wednesday.
District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. denied requests from prosecutors and the defence to close all or part of the process, saying openness and media scrutiny will “enhance the reliability and fairness of the process.”
Jury selection is scheduled to start Oct. 14 for the trial of James Holmes, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the 2012 attack. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The defence argued the presence of reporters would intimidate prospective jurors and discourage them from being candid about any prejudices they have, making it impossible to choose an unbiased jury.
In his 29-page ruling, Samour called that a “doomsday prediction” and said it was only speculation. He said the presence of reporters would probably discourage potential jurors from making up answers.
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, argued an open jury selection would not preclude Holmes from getting a fair trial.
Prosecutors had asked that individual questioning of potential jurors be closed to prevent them from learning through news reports what they would be asked. Samour responded they will probably figure out what kinds of questions they’ll face based on a questionnaire they will fill out first.
Samour has said they will be asked about their views on the death penalty and the insanity defence, what they know about the case and whether serving on the jury will cause them any hardship.
Samour wants to seat 12 jurors and 12 alternates.
He plans to issue 6,000 summonses and expects 3,300 people will respond. After they fill out the questionnaire, those who aren’t ruled out will be questioned individually.
Samour hopes 100 to 120 suitable jurors will remain in the pool after individual questioning. The final 24 will be chosen from that pool during group questioning.
Samour has given varying estimates of how long jury selection will take, and on Wednesday said it could be four months or longer.
He has said the trial could take another five months.
Samour said prospective jurors will be referred to in public by number, not by their names. The same system will be used during the trial, he said.
Samour said neither the questionnaire nor prospective jurors’ answers will be made public.
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