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Colorado doctors get more time to examine theater shooting suspect

Pool / Reuters file

James Eagan Holmes at his arraignment in Centennial, Colo., in March. He appeared in court Tuesday, June 25, with a more clean-cut look, sporting short hair and a neatly trimmed beard.

A judge gave state psychiatrists six more weeks Tuesday to examine Aurora massacre suspect James Holmes, but also put lawyers on notice that he won't let the extension delay Holmes' murder trial even further.

Holmes, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and wounding 58 others at a theater showing the premiere of "Batman: The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., last July.

That meant the state Mental Health Institute in Pueblo was allowed to get its hands on Holmes and his medical records so prosecutors could contest the plea.

Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour initially gave the hospital until July 31 to decide whether it agreed or disagreed that Holmes is insane, but the institute argued last week that the task was so big that it needed at least another month and a half, citing "an extraordinary amount of documentation" it had to wade through — about 40,000 pages of evidence and records.

"I don't think I have a whole lot of choice," Samour said Tuesday in granting the extra time.

But he also said he was inclined to stick to an already delayed trial date of Feb. 3 — almost 19 months after the crime. And because the trial can't start until the evaluation is finished, the ruling means both sides will have six fewer weeks for pretrial motions and hearings.

Related: Revised trial schedule for James Eagan Holmes (.pdf)

Defense lawyers made no objection after Samour reassured them that he would make sure they had plenty of time to file critical motions over the prosecution's plans to seek the death penalty

Under a new trial calendar he issued Tuesday, Samour hopes to cram at least eight hearings or filing deadlines into the second half of September and the month of October, after the hospital makes its report.

That pace will pick up even more as the trial itself approaches in February. Samour said Tuesday that he plans to summon an enormous jury pool — 5,000 people — to ensure an impartial panel in a case that has generated mammoth publicity and opinion.

Holmes, a former doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, is charged with 166 felony counts of murder, attempted murder and other felonies related to the July 12, 2012 shootings.

NBC station KUSA of Denver reported that Holmes was sporting yet another new look for Tuesday's hearing. After having appeared at his arraignment in March with a big bushy beard and an unbrushed thicket of hair, he showed up Tuesday with short hair and a neatly trimmed beard. 

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