CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Should the names of the more than 70 slain or injured victims in the Aurora movie massacre remain public? That is the latest legal squabble in the case against accused gunman James E. Holmes.
Twelve people died and at least 58 more were injured when a gunman opened fire July 20 during a post-midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The names of those killed and most of the injured were made public late last month when Judge William Sylvester unsealed 57 documents in the three-volume case file.
But this week the prosecution asked the judge to reseal or redact all previously released information that could identify victims out of respect for their privacy and safety. The prosecution has said that on at least one occasion someone fraudulently claiming to be one of the victims asked the court to remove his name from the witness list.
The issue of victim identity is expected to be argued in court Thursday along with what a media lawyer called the “excessive redaction” of court documents.
Transparency – or the lack of it -- in a legal case that has captured worldwide attention remains a hotly disputed topic among prosecutors, the defense and lawyers for media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.
Denver lawyer Steven Zansberg, representing media companies, has repeatedly argued that the strict gag order and sealed or heavily redacted documents keep the public in the dark as to how the police and prosecution have handled the investigation.
Last week Zansberg filed a motion saying that the extreme amount of redaction in newly released documents— with some pages completely blacked out -- made many of them unreadable and in essence still sealed. Zansberg added that some information already public -- such as newspaper stories, state statutes concerning doctor-patient privilege, and details of the case discussed in open court – remained blacked out in the court documents.
He also objected to the redaction of names of new victims, which makes it unclear who they are in relation to the case. Last month the prosecution added 10 new counts of attempted murder against Holmes, bringing the total charges to 152.
On Wednesday, the Denver Post reported that prosecutors were seeking to charge Holmes with 14 additional counts of attempted first-degree murder. The Post said the request came in a new court filing. If the judge agrees, Holmes would face 166 counts.
Holmes, 24, was a doctoral neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver before withdrawing about six weeks before the shooting rampage. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for mid-November.
Both the defense and prosecution have argued that in the interest of a fair trial most details of the investigation, such as arrest affidavits and search warrants, must remain sealed.