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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Subpoena Extended|in Mass Murder Trial

DENVER (CN) - The judge in the capital trial of the man accused of murdering 12 people in a Colorado movie theater extended a subpoena for a reporter who published privileged information about the accused killer's journal.

James Holmes, 25, appeared in court Wednesday bearing little resemblance to the man whose mug shot was published around the world after the carnage in the Aurora movie theater.

Gone were the dyed-orange curls that crowned the "Joker" caricature Holmes is said to have assumed during the midnight massacre at the premier of a Batman movie. But Holmes does not appear to have shaved or had his hair cut since then.

Holmes stared vacantly at the bench as Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour listened to testimony from Holmes' attorneys and counsel for Fox News reporter Jana Winter.

Winter is under subpoena for publishing quotes from two unnamed law enforcement officials who told her that a notebook that Holmes sent to his psychiatrist before the shooting contained "details about how he was going to kill people."

The court had issued a gag order a few days after the shooting.

Defense attorney Rebekka Higgs argued with Winter's attorney Dori Hanswirth about whether the reporter should be ordered to reveal her sources for the story.

The debate centered on the balance of constitutional interests.

Hanswirth said the First Amendment right to disseminate information would be compromised by an order against Winter.

Higgs asked the court to protect Holmes' right to a fair trial and to consider the interests of his alleged victims.

Higgs also pressed the court on its seeming reluctance to enforce its own orders, and asked that Judge Samour rule on the issue immediately.

"Ms. Winter has chosen to be the arbiter of how facts are delivered in this case, when in fact you are the arbiter," Higgs told the judge.

Samour said he would refrain from passing "piecemeal" judgment on the issue until he could assess whether Holmes had been prejudiced by the article. He said that if he found otherwise, and that Holmes' right to a fair trial had not been affected, the subpoena would be rendered moot.

Samour said he also would consider whether the information Winter leaked is relevant, and whether the defense had exhausted reasonable means to discover the source of the leak without forcing Winter to testify.

Holmes' attorneys on Wednesday questioned Aurora Police Det. Alton Reed, who testified that he "thumbed through" the notebook but never told anyone other than his supervisor about its contents.

Samour said he cannot evaluate the relevance of the leaked information until he learns more about the contents of the notebook.

According to an order filed Monday, Samour will not decide whether to admit the notebook as evidence until the defense enters a plea during pretrial motions in August.

Samour ordered Winter to reappear on Aug. 19, after which, he said, it would not be fair to keep the reporter under subpoena.

At that hearing, Winter's attorneys are expected to call University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein to testify on Winter's behalf.

Samour ruled on Wednesday that Feldstein could not testify until Winter's attorneys provided Holmes' defense with a full record of his intended testimony.

Feldstein is one of many media professionals who have offered support to the reporter.

Leaders of three press organizations - The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Press Association - submitted affidavits this week in support of a motion to quash Winter's subpoena. They all said that forcing Winter to testify would make it harder for reporters to get information from confidential sources.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Samour, who took the bench after Chief Judge William Sylvester stepped aside this month, set some new rules for the prosecution and defense.

When filing new motions, each party must certify that it made a good-faith effort to resolve any underlying issues outside of court.

Samour also barred both sides from addressing possible plea deals in motions, as was the case when Holmes' attorneys disclosed that Holmes was willing to spend his life in prison if the state agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Later Wednesday, police in Portland, Ore. announced that they had arrested Kevin Michael Purfield, 45, on charges of harassing victims of the massacre.

Portland Police said in a statement that Aurora police had sought their help after identifying the alleged stalker as a Portland resident.

"Purfield was reportedly emailing, calling and using social media to contact various family members of victims of the theater shooting," the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement. "None of the contacts were threatening but were unwanted and annoying and Purfield would often use vile language."

In a motion filed Feb. 5, Holmes' prosecutors claimed that some shooting victims had been contacted by conspiracy theorists, who posted their names and addresses online. Purfield is the first person to be arrested on harassment allegations.

He is charged with five counts of misdemeanor telephonic harassment and one count of misdemeanor stalking.

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