CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The judge in the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting case entered a not guilty plea on behalf of James Holmes today after the former graduate student’s defense team said he was not ready to enter one.
If Holmes is convicted, he could be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Judge William Sylvester said Holmes, 25, can change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity later, if he chooses.
Such a change could be the only way Holmes could avoid life in prison or execution.
Prosecutors, for their part, have not said yet whether they will pursue the death penalty, announcing Tuesday that they will make their decision known on April 1.
The judge set Aug. 5 for the start of the trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined comment.
As he has done in past hearings, Holmes sat silently through Tuesday’s proceedings. He wore a red jail jumpsuit and sported a thick, bushy beard and unkempt dark brown hair.
When he walked into the courtroom, he looked at his parents, James and Arlene Holmes. They sat silently at the front of the room and left without comment after the hearing.
Holmes is charged with 166 counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 attack on moviegoers at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in the Denver suburb of Aurora that killed 12 people and injured 70.
In the nearly eight months since Holmes first shuffled into court with vacant eyes and reddish-orange hair, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead.
Holmes’ lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last fall, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.
That raised the possibility that they could end up entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity at the hearing today. Holmes’ lawyers, however, said they were not ready to enter a plea, and wouldn’t be ready until posibly June 1.
A not guilty by reason of insanity plea carries risk. Prosecutors would gain access to Holmes’ mental health records, which could help their case if the evidence of insanity is weak.