Among the risks for prosecutors: They must convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane. If they don’t, state law requires the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
“That’s a significant burden on the prosecution,” Recht said.
If acquitted, Holmes would be committed to the state mental hospital indefinitely.
A judge entered a standard not guilty plea on Holmes’ behalf in March, and he needs court permission to change it. Recht said it’s a foregone conclusion the judge will accept the new plea to preclude appeals later.
The mental evaluation could take weeks or months. Evaluators will interview Holmes, his friends and family, and if Holmes permits it, they’ll also speak with mental health professionals who treated him in the past, said Dr. Howard Zonana, a professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of law at Yale University.
Evaluators may give Holmes standardized personality tests and compare his results to those of people with documented mental illness. They will also look for any physical brain problems.
Zonana estimates he has conducted around 200 mental evaluations of criminal defendants, including some death penalty cases.
“All cases are tough,” he said.
Meticulous planning, as in the scenario prosecutors laid out against Holmes, doesn’t necessarily mean a defendant is sane, Zonana said.
Zonana said he helped evaluate Stephen Morgan, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2009 shooting death of Johanna Justin-Jinich in Middletown, Conn., where she was attending college.
Evidence showed Morgan planned the shooting, Zonana said, “but he was delusional as hell.”