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Colorado prosecutors oppose moving theater massacre trial

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Prosecutors seeking to convict accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes of murder in the deaths of 12 moviegoers oppose moving his trial to another county, saying such a measure is premature, according to a court filing made public on Tuesday.

The filing came in response to a change-of-venue motion filed this month by lawyers for Holmes, who argued that his right to a fair trial had been compromised by "pervasive media coverage" of the case locally and by the impact of the tragedy on the community itself.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder and attempted murder charges stemming from the July 2012 massacre at a suburban Denver cinema during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Twelve moviegoers were killed and 70 others hurt in one of the deadliest outbursts of U.S. gun violence in decades. The case made international headlines and drew especially intense news coverage in the Denver area.

Holmes' public defenders argued that the glare of publicity, including voluminous commentary and reporting on evidence ruled inadmissible at trial, would make it impossible to seat an impartial jury in Arapahoe County. Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty in the case, had already said they would object to moving the trial.

"The proper time for the court to consider these issues is during jury selection, and if it is not possible to select a fair and impartial jury, then, and only then, should the court enter an order changing venue in this case," prosecutors wrote in a 73-page filing.

Holmes' lawyers have acknowledged that the one-time neuroscience doctoral candidate was the lone gunman who did the shooting, but they say he suffers from a chronic mental illness and was experiencing a psychotic episode when he opened fire.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour said at a hearing last fall that some 6,000 jury summonses would be mailed to county residents, and that jury selection could take up to three months.

The trial of the California native is tentatively scheduled to start in October, but the date could change as numerous issues are litigated.

The proceedings have been put on hold while defense lawyers petition the Colorado Supreme Court to overrule Samour's ruling that Holmes should undergo a second sanity examination. Samour ordered the additional testing after finding the initial court-ordered evaluation Holmes underwent last year was "incomplete and inadequate."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

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