Colorado prosecutors say an offer by lawyers representing mass-murder suspect James Holmes — to plead guilty in exchange for not seeking the death penalty — amounts to a publicity stunt and may violate a gag order attorneys signed in the case.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 and injuring 70 movie-goers at the premiere of a Batman film in Aurora, Colo., on July 20.
On Wednesday, defense lawyers filed a motion in Arapahoe County Court saying that Holmes would be willing to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in prison if there was no chance he’d be executed.
But Thursday, prosecutors reacted sharply in a 12-page motion of their own in which they denies that defense’s filing constituted a legitimate offer, accusing the defense of improper "attempts to involve this court in plea negotiations."
Arapahoe County prosecutors also questioned whether the defense was acting in "good faith" and if their plea-deal filing was "a calculated attempt to improperly inject the issue" into the public debate over the case.
The prosecutors said they have tried but never received a real plea offer or enough information from the defense on a possible plea bargain.
In their filing, prosecutors cite a statement from the head of the Colorado Public Defenders Office, Doug Wilson, to the Associated Press suggesting that district attorneys might not have told victims and families of the shooting that a plea offer was on the table. Prosecutors say those comments by Wilson might be in violation of the judge's gag order to attorneys in the case.
Legal experts say the case — in which Holmes, 25, is accused of 166 felony counts of murder, attempted murder and other felonies — pivots on whether the former grad student was legally insane when he opened fire in the crowded midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Though Holmes’ defense lawyers had hinted at an insanity defense, they have given no definitive indication of how they would plead in the case, NBC station KUSA reported. The judge entered a not guilty plea for Holmes during his March 12 arraignment.
The next hearing in the case is set for Monday. Prosecutors earlier were expected to announce if they would seek the death penalty by then, but now it remains unclear.
A trial date has been set for Aug. 12.
NBC producer Jack Chesnutt contributed to this report.