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Judge disqualifies three jurors during James Holmes death penalty trial

Judge Carlos A. Samour, Jr., dismissed three jurors for misconduct yesterday in the James Holmes murder trial. Holmes is accused of shooting to death 12 and injuring 70 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012 during the premiere showing of a new Batman film. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty even though he is pleading insanity and was severely mentally ill at the time of the mass shooting.

The dismissal is unlikely to affect the legitimacy of the trial because the judge seated 24 jurors (19 women and 5 men). The jury that will decide the cased will be composed of 12 of those jurors. The rest will be alternates.

The hullabaloo that precipitated the dismissal started with a phone call to a juror from her husband during a smoke break for the jurors. The LA Times describes what happened.

The jury problems started when Juror 872’s phone rang during a break last week. Although she and her husband knew that she was not allowed to discuss the case, her husband called to ask about news reports that one of the attorneys had tweeted about the case from the courtroom.

Her phone was on speaker, and she was one of five people on the court’s patio, where jurors gather to smoke.

This is what 872 said under questioning by Samour: “Last Thursday or Friday, my husband called me and asked me a question about what he saw on Facebook about Twitter. He was on speaker…. He asked me if I knew who the lawyer was.

“I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘That idiot was tweeting on Facebook.’ He knows I’m not supposed to talk about it. I don’t look at it in the paper…. Him and I got into a big argument about it. It just happened to be at lunch.”

Juror 872’s husband also asked her whether she knew who “Brauchler” is, referring to Arapahoe County Dist. Atty. George H. Brauchler, who is the main prosecutor in the case and who sent the offending tweet.

“I said, ‘He’s one of the lawyers,'” 872 recounted in court Tuesday, as the rest of the jurors waited outside of Division 201. “He said, ‘Well that idiot tweeted during the testimony.’ He didn’t say what he tweeted.”

On Thursday, Brauchler tweeted, “I agree on the video. I hope the jury thinks so too.” According to the Denver Post, he later apologized, explained that he thought he was sending a text, not tweeting, and took the offending post down quickly.

The video is a reference to the 22 hour interview of Mr. Holmes by a psychiatrist that was played in court. Holmes admitted during the interview that he knew he was breaking the law when he opened fire on the audience. His admission means he was not legally insane, although that is yet to be determined by the jury.

As anyone who served on a jury knows, jurors are prohibited from discussing the case with anyone, including other jurors, during the trial. The phone call and the resulting discussion violated that rule and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Frederick Leatherman

Frederick Leatherman

I am a former law professor and felony criminal defense lawyer who practiced in state and federal courts for 30 years specializing in death penalty cases, forensics, and drug cases.

I taught criminal law, criminal procedure, law and forensics, and trial advocacy for three years after retiring from my law practice.

I also co-founded Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and recruited 40 lawyers who agreed to work pro bono, assisted by law students, representing 17 innocent men and women wrongfully convicted of sexually abusing their children in the notorious Wenatchee Sex Ring witch-hunt prosecutions during the mid 90s. All 17 were freed from imprisonment.

  • Molly

    Hi, Fred! will there be a mistrial over this? And will Brauchler get a reprimand? Or does the fact that there are plenty of jurors without those three simply mean the trial will go on without them?

  • Frederick Leatherman

    Hi Molly,

    No mistrial. Instead of 12 alternates, they now have 9.

  • knowlyn

    Different case, but another death penalty juror issue — Fred, Have you ever heard of this being allowed before? http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/juror-apologizes-to-victims-relatives-for-mcenroe-verdict/
    It’s a juror being permitted to address the court at sentencing and berate other jurors for not choosing the death penalty. Seems so odd to me. What do you think?