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James Holmes insanity defense: Judge sees 'good cause' to allow plea change

Lawyers for accused Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes said he is mentally ill, justifying a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge said he would decide this month whether to accept the plea change.

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Accused movie theater gunman, James Holmes (2nd from r.) is shown in this courtroom artist sketch listening to his legal team during hearing in Centennial, Colo., Monday. A Colorado judge found 'good cause' to allow Holmes, who could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering 12 moviegoers last year, to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Bill Robles/Reuters

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James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, sought Monday to change his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. A judge said there was “good cause” to allow the change but that he would not decide whether to accept the new plea until later in the month.

“Allowing Mr. Holmes to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity would be consistent with fairness and justice," Judge Carlos Samour announced to the packed courtroom.

In Colorado, a defendant must enter a plea at their arraignment, but may change it later if they can show strong reasoning for the switch. Mr. Holmes’ counsel said Monday that the change is warranted since they have now had time to consult with experts and obtain a diagnosis of mental illness for their client.

If granted in a hearing on May 31, the new plea sets the stage for the defense to argue that Mr. Holmes could not distinguish between right and wrong when he opened fire at a midnight showing at the suburban movie theater last July. Dozens of people were wounded in that attack.

Prosecutors announced last month that they would seek the death penalty in the case, and experts say an insanity defense is by far the best argument Holmes’ counsel can make to save his life.

But it’s by no means a straightforward case.

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