AURORA | A judge said there is “good cause” for James Holmes to change his plea, paving the way for the accused theater shooter to mount an insanity defense.
Holmes will likely formally change his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity at a hearing May 31.
In March, a judge entered the not guilty plea for Holmes after his defense team said they weren’t yet ready to enter a plea.
Daniel King, Holmes’ lawyer, said this week that since that hearing in March, Holmes has been diagnosed as mentally ill.
King didn’t specify what illness Holmes has been diagnosed with, but said he was diagnosed by a “qualified professional,” something the defense said they needed before they could make a decision on how to plead.
Under Colorado law, a judge has to rule a defendant has shown “good cause” to change their plea, something Judge Carlos Samour said Holmes’ defense has done.
Holmes appeared in court Monday wearing a red jail jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled. He didn’t say anything during the hearing, which lasted a little more than an hour.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 and injuring more than 50 others during a July 20 rampage at an Aurora movie theater.
Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty against Holmes.
Experts have speculated since the start of the case that Holmes’ only hope for avoiding execution is an insanity plea.
If Samour allows the insanity plea — and he gave every indication Monday that he was leaning that way — it will likely mean the case moves through the court at an even slower pace than it has already.
Holmes is scheduled for trial in February 2014, but that date could be pushed back as Holmes is sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo for evaluation. According to experts, once Holmes is shipped to the state mental hospital, it will likely be at least two months before the first doctor’s evaluation is sent to the court, but in high-profile cases, it can take longer.
If Holmes opts not to cooperate with state doctors — something his defense have said is possible because of concerns he could incriminate himself — doctors could have a tough time evaluating him. But, experts said, when defendants choose not to cooperate, doctors will rely on other resources to make their decision, including medical records, videotaped interviews with police, interviews with people who knew the defendant and other resources.
Also this week, the prosecution and defense shed some more light on just how big the case is. In court Monday, the defense said they are dealing with more than 40,000 pages of evidence. In a motion filed Tuesday, prosecutors said they have more than 3,500 potential witnesses.