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Colorado judge denies bid to close jury selection in theater massacre case

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Jury selection in the murder trial of the man accused of killing 12 moviegoers at a Colorado cinema in 2012 will be open to the public, the judge overseeing the case ruled on Wednesday.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour denied a motion by lawyers for James Holmes, who sought to have the questioning of potential jurors closed to the public and news media.

While they did not formally take a position, prosecutors said that at least the initial jury screening process should be conducted behind closed doors.

But Samour sided with a consortium of news media outlets that filed a petition arguing against closure.

"The public and the media have a right to know what goes on during jury selection," Samour wrote.

Holmes, 26, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from the shooting spree in a suburban Denver cinema during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Twelve moviegoers were killed and 70 others were wounded.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorneys have said the onetime neuroscience doctoral candidate was in the midst of a "psychotic episode" when he opened fire.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for the California native if he is convicted.

In their motion to close jury selection, public defenders said potential jurors would be reticent to discuss honestly their views on capital punishment and insanity in the glare of "overwhelming" publicity, a notion that the judge rejected.

"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," Samour wrote in his 30-page opinion.

"In the Court’s view, sunshine, not darkness is the appropriate disinfectant here."

The judge said steps will be taken to ensure potential jurors’ identities are protected, including allowing the public and news media only to watch the proceedings via closed-circuit television.

Jury selection, which Samour said could take up to three months, is set to begin in mid-October.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jim Loney)

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