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Not guilty plea for James Holmes – but insanity option still on table

At the arraignment Tuesday for James Holmes, the Colorado shooting suspect, his lawyers said he was not yet ready to enter a plea. The judge entered the not-guilty plea on the suspect's behalf.

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James Holmes, Aurora theater shooting suspect, sits in the courtroom during his arraignment in Centennial, Colo. Holmes' attorneys are prepared to enter a guilty plea for him if the prosecution team agrees to a life in prison sentence instead of the death penalty.

RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/AP

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A judge on Tuesday entered a "not guilty" plea for James Holmes, the Colorado movie-theater shooting suspect, over his lawyers' objections that he was not yet ready to enter a plea.

It was Mr. Holmes's first public appearance in nearly eight months, and he was widely expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity – an option that is still open to him and is still the most likely outcome.

As Holmes sat nearby, wearing a red jumpsuit and a full brown beard, his lawyers said he might not be ready to enter a plea until May or June.

"I don't think we could ethically stand before you and tell you we're ready to make a plea," defense lawyer Daniel King said.

Judge William Sylvester, meanwhile, acted annoyed.

"How am I to make an informed decision based on the limited information you've given me?" he asked, before entering the "not guilty" plea on Holmes's behalf. 

Holmes faces 166 counts – mostly for murder and attempted murder – for the shooting, which killed 12 and injured 58.

In recent months, his lawyers have repeatedly emphasized a precarious mental state. Last week, they filed a motion to preserve video from a November hospital stay, in which they say that Holmes was rushed to such a facility because he needed psychiatric help and that he was held there for several days, "frequently in restraints."

His lawyers have also challenged the constitutionality of Colorado's insanity-plea laws, saying that they're too vague and that, particularly in a capital case, they could cause a defendant to self-incriminate during a psychiatric evaluation. (Prosecutors have not yet said whether they intend to seek the death penalty.)

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