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.
“Sometimes evil looks a whole lot like insanity,” says Rashmi Goel, a criminal law expert at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “In general when people commit these kinds of atrocities our human response is to say they must be insane because what sane person would do this? But the standards for medical and legal insanity are not the same.”
Neither is the legal definition of insanity the same in every state. In Colorado, for instance, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is sane once an insanity plea is introduced. In most states, it’s the opposite – the defense must affirmatively prove insanity. (Four states – Kansas, Montana, Idaho and Utah – don’t allow insanity defenses at all.)