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Colorado shootings suspect to enter insanity plea

DENVER — The man accused in the deadly Colorado theater shootings wants to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, his lawyers said Tuesday.

Attorneys for James Holmes said in a court filing that they plan to formally ask for the change of plea at a May 13 hearing.

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The insanity plea was widely expected, given the compelling evidence against Holmes, who is accused of opening fire July 20 in a crowded theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Twelve people were killed and 70 injured.

But his lawyers delayed entering an insanity plea for weeks, saying Colorado’s insanity and death penalty laws overlapped in a way that could severely — and unconstitutionally — hamper his defense if he did plead insanity.

The defense has asked both judges who have presided over the case to rule on the constitutionality of the laws. Both judges refused, saying the question was speculative because Holmes had not entered an insanity plea. That left Holmes’s lawyers with no choice but to enter the insanity plea, then seek a ruling on the constitutionality question.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.

A judge in the case previously entered a standard not-guilty plea for him. If a judge accepts the new plea, Holmes would be sent to the state mental hospital, where doctors would determine whether he was insane at the time of the shootings.

If the doctors do determine that Holmes was insane, a jury could still find him guilty.

Colorado law defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong, caused by a diseased or defective mind. The law specifically excludes depravity, ‘‘moral obliquity,’’ or passion caused by anger or hatred from being considered insanity.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Holmes’s attorneys have said in court hearings and written in court documents that Holmes is mentally ill. He was being seen by a psychiatrist before the attack at a “Batman’’ movie screening.

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