Next week, jury selection will begin in the case of the People of the State of Colorado v. James Holmes, the man accused of the horrific shooting at the Aurora theater in July 2012. Opening statements by the district attorney and public defender are expected in June, with the trial likely to extend through late 2015.
Even as legal proceedings commence, these many months later our hearts remain with the victims, their families and friends. No one should have to experience what they have been through.
Because Holmes was formerly a graduate student on our campus, we expect the district attorney and public defender to present a considerable amount of evidence at trial about his time and activities on campus. We also anticipate that the attorneys may call a number of students, faculty and other university employees as witnesses.
Undoubtedly, there will be considerable media coverage of the trial which could last many months. Before the trial starts, I want to explain how the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will respond to requests for information.
Our highest duty is protect the integrity of the trial and not take any action that would adversely affect the pursuit of justice. We believe the courtroom is the proper forum for the evidence to be presented and the case resolved, and ordinarily we will not comment upon those proceedings.
Given that university faculty, employees and students will testify, we believe it would be inappropriate for us to address their testimony outside of the courtroom, as the jury will ultimately be tasked with receiving the evidence and rendering a verdict in accordance with Judge Samour’s instructions. We have confidence in the judicial system and its ability to protect the interests of the parties.
It is important to note several things.
First, the pursuit of justice in this case has always been our paramount concern. It remains so today. The university cooperated fully with law enforcement and its investigation and has complied with Judge Samour’s orders. The University of Colorado is not a party to the trial, and, while university students, faculty and staff may testify, the district attorney and public defender will determine what evidence they wish to present at trial.
Second, when not prohibited by law, we made publicly available large amounts of information. We took care to comply with judicial orders that required us to respect the confidentiality of information that is “protected by state and federal statute or by rules and regulations of the Supreme Court and any state agency.” We also responded to dozens of requests under the Colorado Open Records Act and posted our responses on our website. All of that information remains publicly available today at www.ucdenver.edu/holmestrial
Third, there are health care privacy laws and student privacy laws that preclude us from publicly releasing a student’s educational or health care records.
Notwithstanding the fact that Holmes has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and the trial will focus upon his mental health, we cannot release Holmes’ student records or medical information without his permission, which he has not granted us.
During the trial, the media may request information. When it is appropriate and lawful for us to provide information, we will do so. Given the legal considerations involved, we will have to consider each request individually. As a public institution, the University of Colorado is committed to transparency and will honor that principle consistent with its legal obligations.
We recognize that limiting our commentary and the information we disseminate during the trial may be frustrating for the public, the media and for us. But there is a higher purpose. We hope the public, media and university community will understand that we must not interfere with the judicial process.
We also appreciate deeply the way the university community responded in the days and months after the Aurora theater shooting. Our communal spirit is part of what makes this university special.
Thank you very much,
Chancellor, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus