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Trial date in Colorado movie theater massacre in doubt

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The former graduate student charged with killing 12 Colorado moviegoers last summer was due back in court on Tuesday for a hearing in which the judge may push back the trial date to allow more time to conduct a psychiatric exam of the accused gunman.

Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour Jr. called the hearing after receiving a letter from the superintendent of the Colorado Mental Health Institute seeking six additional weeks to complete its court-ordered evaluation of the defendant.

The accused gunman, James Holmes, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, requiring him under state law to submit to an in-depth battery of psychiatric assessments.

The superintendent, William May, said institute staff were poring through an "extraordinary amount of documentation" and would not make the July 31 deadline the judge originally set for finishing the examination and accompanying report.

The judge had set the month of August aside for hearings on dozens of pretrial motions, many of them dealing with the sanity examination, and had scheduled the trial to begin in February 2014.

Tuesday's hearing was ordered to discuss with lawyers for both sides the "impact on the motions hearings and trial date" posed by the extension sought by May.

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder stemming from a shooting spree in a suburban Denver multiplex last July during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

The rampage killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 58 others.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Holmes, a California native and onetime neuroscience doctoral student, if he is convicted.

Separately, Samour ordered lawyers for both sides to "give some thought" to discussing the case of New York-based Fox News journalist Jana Winter, who is fighting efforts to reveal sources she used in a story about the Holmes case five days after the massacre.

Citing confidential law enforcement sources, Winter reported that Holmes sent a notebook to his psychiatrist, detailing his plans to commit mass murder.

Holmes' public defenders subpoenaed Winter and want her to name the sources, who they claim violated a gag order imposed in the case.

Winter, who is contesting the subpoenas in both New York and Colorado courts, said she is protected by reporter shield laws.

Last week, lawyers for Winter filed a motion asking the judge to allow them access to the notebook, which Samour has ordered turned over to the government.

"Winter cannot possibly brief the court on this point without her counsel being permitted to inspect the notebook," the reporter's pleading said.

Samour has not ruled on that motion.

(Editing by Steve Gorman/Catherine Evans)

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