Prosecutors in the Aurora theater shooting case have ripped defendant James Holmes’ attorneys’ offer to plead guilty to all 166 counts in exchange for life in prison as a thinly veiled publicity stunt meant to circumvent a court’s gag order and influence public opinion.
In a 12-page filing on Thursday, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler hammered defense attorneys for a notice they filed with the court the previous day. In it, Holmes’ lawyers said the accused shooter was willing to plead guilty as long as prosecutors didn’t seek the death penalty.
They said only prosecutors stood in the way of a speedy conclusion to the case and noted that a similar offer had been made prior to Holmes’ arraignment.
Brauchler wrote in his filing on Thursday that it was “grossly improper” for the defense to involve the court in possible plea dealings, especially considering that the notice was filed in response to a scheduling motion.
He also said that it amounts to a violation of the court’s order prohibiting lawyers from making any statements about the case outside the courtroom, because the defense attorneys should have known it would be widely reported by the media.
“Because there is no legitimate reason to include information about the purported defense ‘offer’ in any pleading filed in the case,” Brauchler wrote, “the people question whether this language was included in the Defense Notice in good faith, or whether it was a calculated attempt to improperly inject the issue of the purported defense ‘offer’ into the public discourse regarding this case.”
Brauchler also wrote that prosecutors have consistently refused to consider any plea offers without access to more information about Holmes, which he said the defense attorneys have refused to allow. Therefore, in prosecutors’ minds, there is no offer for them to consider.
Because of the publicity the defense filing generated, Brauchler asked Judge William Sylvester to throw out a pending defense motion alleging that someone in law enforcement broke the gag rule by leaking information about the case to a Fox News reporter. Arguing that the disclosure about a possible plea deal violated the gag order, Brauchler said it was unfair to pursue a motion against the prosecution for allegedly doing the same thing.
“The defense has thus filed a motion that unnecessarily and gratuitously informed all of Colorado, and the entire world for that matter, that the defendant was ready and able to come into court and say that he was guilty and committed the crimes charged in this case,” the filing reads. “The only conclusion that an objective reader would reach by reading the stories … is that the defendant knows that he is guilty, the defense attorneys know that he is guilty, and that both of them know that he was not criminally insane.”
The parties are due back in court on Monday. Fox News reporter Jana White had been subpoenaed to testify about her sources, but depending on Sylvester’s ruling on Brauchler’s motion, she may be off the hook.
Prosecutors are also expected to announce whether they will seek the death penalty against Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 and injuring at least 58 others.
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