CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case are making their final decisions about the jurors who will decide the fate of the man charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 others nearly three years ago.
Jury selection entered its final stage Monday with the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys questioning prospective jurors as a large group.
They will whittle the remaining candidates to 12 jurors and 12 alternates to serve in the months-long trial of James Holmes, who had a new, shorter haircut for the hearing and had shaved the bushy beard he wore during the last round of jury questioning. He wore a brown shirt and reddish, tortoise shell glasses.
Opening statements are scheduled for April 27.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the July 20, 2012, attack at a Denver-area movie theater. His attorneys don't dispute that he pulled the trigger but say he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the theater and opened fire while dressed from head to toe in combat gear.
Prosecutors say Holmes was sane and will ask jurors to convict him and sentence him to death. A jury could be seated as soon as Monday, but Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. scheduled two days for group questioning.
Jury selection in the case began Jan. 20, and experts say it was among the largest and most complicated in U.S. history. Court officials initially summoned 9,000 prospective jurors, who spent weeks filling out lengthy written questionnaires.
Hundreds of people were asked to return for one-on-one questioning, where defense attorneys, prosecutors and the judge questioned them, sometimes for hours, about their views on the death penalty, mental illness and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Samour told attorneys last week that they could no longer press prospective jurors about those topics during group questioning. Instead, attorneys will likely ask questions about the rule of law and how prospective jurors gauge the credibility of witnesses who testify.
All but three of the 115 prospective jurors told to return for the final round reported to the courthouse in suburban Denver on Monday. It is still possible the others could report for questioning.
The men and women who did report were mostly middle-aged, white and casually dressed.
Samour said he was impressed by the prospective jurors, many of whom told him they would rather not serve on the jury but would if needed, giving up four or five months of their lives.
"You are the reason we have the democratic society we relish today," Samour told them, noting that one prospective juror moved her honeymoon from May to April and another agreed to get up at 3 a.m. to get in five hours of work every day.
Samour, who is from El Salvador, also tried to put them at ease, poking fun at his accent and making a joke. "Now that you understand how long and inefficient jury selection is, do you understand why they never show it on Law and Order?" he said.
Thirteen people raised their hands when asked if they had a new hardship that could prevent them from serving, while others said they had a change of heart about being fair or following the law when it comes to sentencing.
At least 19 people were excused Monday for various reasons, including one woman who handed court officials a packet of medical documents.
Unlike in individual questioning, attorneys can dismiss potential jurors without giving cause during group questioning.
Associated Press writer Donna Bryson contributed to this report.