'Batman shooter' judge rules insanity pleas constitutional

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A United States (US) judge ruled on Wednesday that Colorado's laws on insanity pleas are constitutional, resolving a legal challenge ahead of accused Aurora cinema shooter James Holmes's expected plea later this week.

Holmes, suspected of killing 12 people and wounding another 70 by opening fire in the packed theater during a showing of a Batman movie last July, is expected to plead not guilty due to insanity on Friday.

In court documents published ahead of that hearing, judge Carlos Samour dismissed arguments that the western US state's laws on insanity and the death penalty violate the constitution.

"The statutory provisions of the insanity statutes and the death penalty statute challenged by the defendant are constitutional," he wrote in a 50-page ruling published online.

The trial judge initially entered a straight "not guilty" plea on Holmes's behalf in March, when lawyers for the 25-year-old said they were not yet ready to enter a plea.

At a new hearing on May 13 Holmes's court-appointed attorney Daniel King said he was willing to enter an insanity plea, but the judge said he would not yet formally accept the change of plea, and set this week's new court date.

In the meantime Holmes' lawyers argued that Colorado's laws on pleading not guilty due to insanity violated his right against self-incrimination, according to the Denver Post.

The laws require defendants making such a plea to undergo a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. If they refuse, they are barred from calling any mental-health experts of their own to testify on their behalf in court.

Last year's massacre took place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, outside Denver, reviving America's long-running debate about gun control.

Witnesses said Holmes threw smoke bomb-type devices before opening fire in the theater with weapons including an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber pistol.

Prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty in the case, in which Holmes faces 166 counts of capital murder and attempted murder.