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5 Things to Know as James Holmes returns to court

Monday - 1/27/2014, 2:40pm  ET

DAN ELLIOTT
Associated Press

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes returned to court Monday for a closed hearing on whether he should get a second psychiatric evaluation. Holmes is charged with the July 2012 Aurora shootings that killed 12 people and injured 70. Here are five things to know about the case so far:

1. WHERE THINGS STAND: Holmes' lawyers acknowledge he was the shooter but say he was, and still is, mentally ill. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation at the Colorado state hospital last summer. The findings haven't been made public, but prosecutors want their own experts to do another evaluation, claiming the doctor who conducted the first one was biased.

2. WHAT'S HAPPENING THIS WEEK: The two sides are arguing about whether Holmes should undergo another evaluation. Victims, the general public and reporters are barred from the courtroom; the judge says publicizing the testimony could influence potential jurors and make it impossible for Holmes to get a fair trial. Witnesses will include the psychiatrist who evaluated Holmes at the state hospital.

3. WHAT'S AT STAKE: A verdict on whether Holmes was insane could determine if he lives or dies. If he is found insane, he can't be executed and would be committed indefinitely to the state hospital. If he is found sane and convicted, he would be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole. Both sides are fighting fiercely over any evidence that would influence a jury either way.

4. WHAT'S NEXT: Sometime after this week's hearing, the judge will decide on another sanity evaluation by prosecution experts. That could help determine whether prosecutors keep pressing for a trial in hopes of getting a death sentence or possibly opt to negotiate a plea deal that would put Holmes in prison for life.

5. WHY IT'S TAKING SO LONG: Holmes' trial was to start in February, but the judge postponed it indefinitely while the two sides argue over a second sanity evaluation. In a death-penalty case where the defendant pleads insanity, multiple hearings are required to resolve complex legal questions, including what evidence can be introduced, what jurors can be told and what rights the defendant surrenders by pleading insanity.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP


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