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Lawyers in Colorado shooting case challenge insanity defense law

Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado in this March 12, 2013 file photo. R
Accused Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes listens at his arraignment in Centennial, Colorado in this March 12, 2013 file photo. R

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Lawyers for accused Colorado movie theater gunman James Holmes argued on Thursday the state's insanity defense law was unconstitutional because it forces him to cooperate with court-appointed psychiatrists or forfeit the right to raise mental-health issues at sentencing.

Prosecutors countered during a hearing before Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour Jr. that without an independent examination, there would be no way to evaluate defense claims that Holmes was legally insane at the time of the crime.

The arguments were the latest legal wrangling surrounding the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" last July that killed 12 moviegoers and wounded dozens of others.

Holmes, a 25-year-old former graduate student, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if he is convicted.

Samour agreed to hear the arguments so he can properly advise Holmes of the consequences of entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Public defenders said compelling Holmes to divulge information to psychiatrists that could be used against him at trial or sentencing if he is convicted violated his right against self-incrimination.

Public defender Kristen Nelson also said that barring defense experts in a capital case if a defendant fails to cooperate with psychiatrists was unconstitutional.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has said time and again that you cannot put limitations on relevant mitigating evidence," Nelson said.

Prosecutor Rich Orman that argued without a third-party psychiatric examination, there would no other way "to assess the reliability and relevancy" of Holmes' mental state.

Orman said the insanity-defense statute had been upheld by various state and federal courts, and overturning it would "essentially (be) asking your honor to be part of the defense team."

The judge said he would rule on the issue by the end of the month. Holmes' trial is scheduled for February 2014.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)

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