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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mass-Murder Trial Judge is Graduate of Columbine H.S.

DENVER (CN) - The judge presiding over the capital murder trial in the Aurora movie massacre graduated from Columbine High School, where two students shot 13 people to death in 1999.

Columbine High School, in Littleton, is just 20 miles away from the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, where James Holmes is accused of murdering 12 people during a midnight premier of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Between the two landmarks sits the Arapahoe County Justice Center, where Judge Carlos Samour will oversee what one of Holme's defense attorneys called "the most important case this court, this courthouse, will ever hear."

Samour was assigned the trial after Chief Judge William Sylvester said he had too many other responsibilities to sit on a capital case that can be expected to take years to resolve.

Samour immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1979.

In pretrial hearings, he has shown more willingness to engage attorneys in debate than his predecessor did. Samour frequently guides attorneys through their own arguments, to clarify them, and has been quick to point out the arguments' flaws.

The trial figures to be a long, arduous process. Holmes faces 166 criminal counts, and his attorneys have indicated they will make every possible argument to delay or avert Holmes' execution.

The defense has not yet decided whether they will pursue an insanity defense.

Samour has allotted 4 months for trial, to begin on Feb. 3, 2014. He said he wants to be "aggressive with moving things ahead" but not "rash."

Holmes's attorneys requested a 9-month trial; the state asked for 3 months.

Samour will allow the parties to file capital and noncapital motions separately.

Before taking the bench, Samour worked as a private attorney and then as a prosecutor in Denver.

He graduated from the University of Colorado in Denver and Denver University's Sturm College of Law. He spent 5 years in private practice with Holland & Hart, then worked as a deputy district attorney for a decade. He was appointed to the Arapahoe County bench in 2006.

A performance review published online by The Eighteenth Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance describes Samour as widely respected.

"Lawyers and non-lawyers alike, including members of this Commission, who have observed Judge Samour in his courtroom, have found him to be very friendly, efficient and professional," the review states. He is praised for his knowledge of the law and his fairness. Judge Samour volunteers his time as a Spanish language presenter for the 'Our Courts' program, a program that explains the workings of the state courts to the public. Judge Samour also assists in planning the judicial district's annual continuing judicial education conference. Though Judge Samour has only been on the bench for a relatively short time, the Commission is impressed with Judge Samour's broad background in both civil and criminal law and feels that he has proven himself an asset to this judicial district and will continue to grow as a judge."

The 2010 retention survey on which the Commission's recommendation was based showed that attorneys and other judges consistently rated Samour as a capable jurist. Seventy-four percent of attorneys polled "strongly recommended" that Samour be retained, and a survey of appellate judges awarded him a 3.29 "grade average" out of a possible 4.

According to the retention survey, which had a sample size of 37, 14 percent of attorneys said Samour was "very biased in favor of the prosecution," compared to 11 percent of judges statewide, and 28 percent said he was "somewhat biased in favor of the prosecution," compared to 27 percent of judges statewide.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, the prosecutor, will seek to make Holmes the second person executed in Colorado since the ruling in Furman v. Georgia declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. That ruling was reversed in 1976; capital punishment was reinstated in Colorado in 1984.

The first person executed by Colorado was Noverto Griego, a murderer, in 1890. Hangings continued until 1933, when the gas chamber replaced the noose.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984, just one inmate has been executed. Gary Lee Davis was executed by lethal injection in 1997, for raping and murdering neighbor a decade earlier.

Three men are Death Row in Colorado, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Holmes' attorneys wrote in a motion that he would be willing to spend the rest of his life in prison if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

D.A. Brauchler declined the offer in an April 1 hearing, saying he had spoken with Holmes' alleged victims and concluded that "justice is death" in this case.

Holmes cannot be executed if the jury finds he is insane.

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