Public Access to Batman Murder Trial Championed

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     DENVER (CN) – Saying “sunshine, not darkness, is the appropriate disinfectant here,” a judge will let the public view jury selection for the trial of accused mass murder James Holmes.
     Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour published his ruling Wednesday in response to a motion filed by the media to keep jury selection open. Both Holmes’ attorneys and the prosecution objected to the motion.
     “The defendant moves to close the entire jury selection process to the public and the media in order to effectuate the right to a fair trial,” Samour wrote. “During the May 29, 2014, hearing, the prosecution orally joined the defendant’s request in part arguing that the introductory jury selection sessions and individual voir dire should be closed. A conglomeration of media organizations and publications subsequently filed an objection opposing any closure. For the reasons articulated in this order, the parties’ requests for closure are denied.”
     Defense attorneys for Holmes had said the media’s presence at jury selection “will overwhelm and intimidate prospective juror’s and will ‘likely’ cause them ‘to be extremely reticent to candidly discuss their views on important issues like the insanity defense, the death penalty, and their knowledge of and opinions about this case in the face of intense media scrutiny,” according to the 30-page ruling.
     The defense also worried that “prospective jurors may learn of the questions and answers posed to the other [prospective] jurors during individual voir dire through media report,” Samour explained.
     But these arguments and those of the state failed to sway the judge as to why jury selection should be closed.
     “Because the parties have not established that under these circumstances closure is essential to preserve the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the court concluded that the presumption of openness has not been overcome,” Samour wrote. “Accordingly, the court declines to close to the public and the press jury selection in whole, as requested by the defendant, or in part, as requested by the prosecution. Rather than hinder the effectiveness of jury selection, openness and the watchful eye of the media will increase scrutiny and enhance the reliability and fairness of the process. In the court’s view, sunshine, not darkness, is the appropriate disinfectant here.”
     One control over the process is the use of “closed-circuit television somewhere in another room in the courthouse” for the media and public to watch the introductory jury selection and group voir dire, the judge added.
     Samour also said that the court will not release blank and filled-out jury questionnaires, and that it “will refer to prospective jurors and seated jurors by number throughout the trial to conceal their identity from the public.”
     There will be one more onlooker watching the beginning of jury selection. At the May 29 hearing, Samour ruled Holmes has a right to be present while attorneys and the judge greet prospective jurors.
     Jury selection will begin this fall. Samour suspects that the selection process will take several months.
     Holmes is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 criminal counts, including murder and weapons charges related to the 12 people killed and dozens injured at the midnight premier of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” in an Aurora movie theater on July 20, 2012.
     Prosecutors indicated they will seek the death penalty.