Just as the emotions from the Sandy Hook tragedy were becoming less intense, the world is about to be forced to relive a similar tragedy. A preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin next week for alleged mass shooter James Holmes. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people at a screening of The Dark Knight last summer in Aurora, Colorado.
A preliminary hearing is a proceeding before the court in which the prosecution must prove there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. This will be first time the public and the media will get a glimpse at the evidence against Holmes, and we should get an idea of what kind of defense Holmes' lawyers will use should the case proceed to trial.
Holmes has not entered a plea yet. However, media reports say Holmes' lawyers believe their client to be mentally ill. This could open the door to an insanity defense.
In Canada, the standards for such a defense are a little different. Section 16 of the Criminal Code says, "No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong."
I was recently standing in line for dinner in a food court and I overheard two uneducated people joking about how they could shoot up a place, say they were crazy and then not go to jail. It's true, those found not criminally responsible don't typically go to jail, but they are put into a secure psychiatric facility indefinitely. The accused's case is reviewed annually by a provincial review board. In Ontario, that's the Ontario Review Board.
There appears to be an assumption that those found not criminally responsible will be put into a psychiatric facility and released shortly after. A Quebec man released just 4 years after being found not criminally responsible of killing his children has only fueled this belief.
In truth, the goal of treatment facilities and the courts isn't to punish those found not criminally responsible for their crimes. It is to rehabilitate those with severe mental illness and mental disorders so they can be functioning members of society. It is an opportunity for them to learn more about their mental illness so it can be treated, something that likely didn't happen before their offense.
It is only human to want to see somebody pay for and be punished for their crimes. Heck, even I'm guilty of thinking "Where's a cop when you need one?" after somebody runs through a red light. As the old saying goes, "There are exceptions to every rule".
I have never been the victim of a crime nor do I know of anybody who has been the victim of a heinous crime. But I can understand wanting the harshest penalty possible for somebody who victimized somebody close to me. Yet, though the reasons for for mental illness are complex, what's obvious is that people suffering from it are in desperate need of treatment. People in these situations have hit rock bottom, and it's my opinion that their crimes could be a call for help.
It's fun to think about what we would do with a "get out of jail free card." But the reality is that those only exist in Monopoly. The "not criminally responsible" ruling isn't designed to keep everybody out of jail. It is a tool available to our justice system to be applied to people with the most complex issues that can only be resolved in a psychiatric setting.
I hope you'll keep this in mind as you read about James Holmes' preliminary hearing -- and the next time you think about not wanting to be held responsible for your actions.
Jessica Ghawi, a sports reporter who went by the name of Jessica Redfield, died at the scene of the shooting. Ghawi, 24, was dating minor league hockey player Jay Meloff, and had recently moved to Denver, Colorado from San Antonio Texas. "She was very smart and very funny," said Adrian Dater of The Denver Post. "Just a nice person." Just six weeks prior, Ghawi had survived a shooting at a Toronto mall on June 2 that left one person dead and seven injured. Read more about Jessica Ghawi here.
Zak Golditch, a rising senior at Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo. was sitting in a theater adjacent to where shooting began and was hit in the neck by a bullet that punctured the wall. He has now been released from the hospital. Golditch is a local football and track star, and hopes that his injuries will not prevent him from playing football in the fall.
Bonnie Kate Pourciau, 18, a Baton Rouge, La, resident was on vacationing when she was wounded by a bullet that struck her knee. Pourciau, who will be starting college this fall, was attending the premiere with a Baton Rouge friend, Elizabeth Sumrall, who was not hurt.
Despite being shot in the head, leg, arm and chest, Louis Duran (L.) emerged from the hospital the day after the shooting. Jahlil Hall posed with him for this bedside photo after learning his friend would survive the massacre. Hall told ABC News that Duran skipped their weekly basketball game on Thursday night to attend the premier with two pals from high school.
Christopher Raspoza of Brooklyn, NY, was grazed in the back by a bullet. He was attending the movie with his girlfriend, who was unharmed. He posted several pictures on Imgur from his hospital bed, including his bloody t-shirt and the gory bullet wound in his back.
While recovering in the hospital, Raspoza holds up his blood-soaked shirt from the night of the shooting.
Ohio natives Samantha Yowler and her boyfriend, Matt McQuinn, were attending the premiere together when the shooting began. Both are 2004 graduates of Ohio high schools and now reside in Colorado, where they are both employed by Target. A co-worker describes the couple as "really fun people."
Gage Hankins, an 18-year-old resident of Forest, Ohio, was shot in the arm and is expected to recover. The recent high school graduate was on a family vacation and was attending a movie with his younger brother. They were seated in a theater adjacent to where the gunman started shooting.