Suspect James Holmes' charges in the Colorado theater shootings include 24 counts of first-degree murder, giving potential jurors two routes to reach a verdict.
Prosecutors on Monday charged Holmes with 12 counts of first-degree murder and 12 counts of first-degree murder with extreme indifference, Reuters reports. Police arrested Holmes after he allegedly opened fire on a movie theater audience in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 and wounding 58 others.
So what is the difference between the two types of first-degree murder charges?
Under Colorado's murder statute, there are six ways to charge a person with first-degree murder. James Holmes' charges involve two of those alternatives, namely:
- A "traditional" definition of first-degree murder. Colorado, like most other states, requires "deliberation and ... the intent to cause the death" of another person.
- An "extreme indifference" murder. This is when a defendant allegedly engages in dangerous behavior that ends in death and shows "extreme indifference to the value of human life generally."
An "extreme indifference" murder is "a lot easier to prove. You don't have to prove premeditation," one Colorado lawyer told The Denver Post earlier this month in connection with a separate shooting case.
"Literally, that's shooting into a crowd," the lawyer said. "That's classically why this (statute) exists."
In Colorado, first-degree murder can also occur when a victim dies during the commission of a violent felony like arson, robbery, or kidnapping; or when a person deals illegal drugs to a child at school, and the child later dies because of drug use.
If convicted of first-degree murder, a defendant can possibly face the death penalty.
James Holmes' charges also include 116 counts of attempted murder, one count of committing a crime of violence, and one count of possession of explosives, perhaps linked to his booby-trapped apartment, Reuters reports. The hearing was not televised, and Holmes, 24, was not expected to enter a plea Monday.
- James Eagan Holmes charged with murder, attempted murder from Colo. rampage (CBS News)
- For James Holmes, Death Penalty is Far from a Certainty (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Could James Holmes Claim Insanity? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Colorado Shootings: 1st Dark Knight Lawsuit Filed (FindLaw's Injured)