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Court bars some statements by accused Colorado theater gunman

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Some statements accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes made to detectives in the hours after a deadly rampage that killed 12 moviegoers in a Denver suburb last year will be excluded as evidence in his upcoming trial, a judge ruled on Friday.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ruled that prosecutors in the death penalty case could not introduce the statements as evidence at trial because they were made after Holmes had asked for a lawyer.

But because Holmes made the statements to detectives Chuck Mehl and Craig Appel voluntarily, they could still be used to cross-examine witnesses who provide contradictory testimony, should defense lawyers open the door to such questioning.

Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the shooting during a midnight screening of a Batman movie in July 2012. Holmes, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

"The statements made by the defendant to Detectives Mehl and Appel after he invoked his right to counsel are suppressed and may not be admitted to the prosecution's case-in-chief," Samour said in a written ruling.

It remained unclear what Holmes told the detectives as the statements are redacted in the ruling.

But the 48-page opinion mentions that in the early hours after the shooting, police were questioning Holmes about whether any other shooters might have taken part in the rampage.

The fact that the judge suppressed the statements is not surprising given that Holmes clearly had requested an attorney, said defense lawyer and legal analyst Wil Smith, who is not involved in the case.

"It is well-established case law that after a suspect invokes his right to a lawyer, any further statements are inadmissible," said Smith, who has practiced criminal law for 30 years.

Samour rejected prosecution arguments that the interrogating officers were unsure if Holmes had accomplices, and could thus question him under a public safety exception. The judge said that by the time the detectives spoke to Holmes, he had already been questioned about that issue on two separate occasions.

Samour had already ruled that Holmes' responses to those questions asked by arresting officers are admissible. Holmes told police he acted alone, had four firearms and had booby-trapped his apartment, according to the officers' testimony at earlier hearings.

Public defenders claim that police prevented them from seeing their client for 13 hours after he asked for a lawyer and coerced him into providing information about the explosives in his apartment.

Separately, Samour denied a defense motion that sought to have evidence seized from Holmes' car suppressed because police lacked a search warrant, ruling that police were dealing with an emergency situation.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)

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