By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Attorneys defending accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, who could face execution if convicted of murdering 12 moviegoers, said on Monday they need a witness list from the prosecution soon if they are to be ready to try the case early next year.
At a brief hearing in Arapahoe County District Court, public defender Daniel King argued that the names of probable witnesses from among a list of nearly 4,000 people endorsed by prosecutors had not been turned over.
"If we want this trial to go in February, something's got to give," King told Judge Carlos Samour Jr.
Samour agreed, telling prosecutors, "You should be able to narrow that down."
Prosecutor Jacob Edson said that while the government was under no legal obligation to produce such a roster, it would provide a "good faith witness list" in December.
Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire in July 2012 inside a suburban Denver cinema during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."
The shooting spree killed 12 moviegoers and injured 70 others. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.
Another issue discussed was the sanity examination the former University of Colorado neuroscience graduate student underwent at the state mental hospital after he invoked the insanity defense.
Under Colorado law, prosecutors have the burden of proving a defendant was not insane at the time of the crime - in essence whether the accused knew right from wrong.
Holmes appeared in court clean-shaven for the first time in months. As he has in all of his court appearances, he listened impassively during the 30-minute proceeding, which largely involved procedural matters.
Holmes' lawyers have asked permission to file additional motions because of "significant and important legal issues" arising from the sanity report that relate not just to trial issues, but also the sentencing phase of the case. The report has not been made public.
Public defenders have said in court filings that their client was "in the throes of a psychotic episode" when he opened fire inside the theater. Samour said he would rule on the motions at a later date.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft)