CENTENNIAL–A routine race for a suburban district attorney’s post has surged into the national spotlight in the aftermath of the Aurora theater massacre.
Republican George Brauchler and Democrat Ethan Feldman are vying to succeed Carol Chambers as district attorney for 18th Judicial District, which encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.
The winner will be charged with the prosecution of 24-year-old James Eagen Holmes, whom police have fingered as the gunman in the Century 16 shooting that left 12 dead and 58 wounded. If the case goes to trial, it could easily become one of the most widely watched courtroom events of the century.
Both Brauchler and Feldman declined to speak about the case, saying it would be inappropriate, given that Chambers is now running the prosecution and will be doing so until her successor is sworn in in January.
Holmes, his hair dyed reddish orange, made his first court appearance Monday in Arapahoe County District Court for an advisement hearing. The only suspect in the shooting, Holmes is expected to be charged at minimum with first-degree murder at a July 30 hearing.
One issue bound to arise during the campaign is whether the candidates would seek the death penalty. If found competent to stand trial, Holmes is likely to meet the legal requirements for a death sentence, a call that would be made by the prosecutor.
It’s far from certain that Chambers will have made a decision on sentencing before she leaves office, given the timetable involved. Prosecutors have 60 days to decide on whether to pursue a death sentence after the arraignment, which has not yet been scheduled.
Before the arraignment comes a preliminary hearing at which a judge will determine whether Holmes should be held over for trial. Holmes’ attorneys are also likely to request a mental-health evaluation for their client.
The process could take months, making it more likely that one of the candidates and not Chambers will be at the helm. Even if Chambers does need to make a decision on sentencing before leaving office, she may want to consult with the incoming district attorney after the Nov. 6 election.
Then again, there may be hard feelings between the Republican Chambers and her would-be successors. Both candidates have taken indirect swipes at Chambers’ tenure, with Feldman saying on the campaign trail that he wants to remove “politics” from the office.
Brauchler defeated Chambers’ heir apparent, chief deputy Leslie Hansen, in the Republican primary in June, telling voters that he wanted to end the “musical chairs” of replacing prosecutors with their top assistants.
The42-year-old Brauchler has made it clear that he supports the death penalty in appropriate cases “without hesitation.” A former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and military prosecutor, he served until October as Chief Prosecutor for the Northern District of Iraq.
He spent 11 years as a Jefferson County deputy district attorney, where he was involved in prosecutions related to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. He lives in Highlands Ranch.
Feldman noted in a statement that the Colorado legislature “has set forth specific criteria about when a jury should be asked to impose a death penalty.”
If elected, he said, “I will follow my oath to follow the law. There are cases where it is appropriate to ask a jury to impose a death penalty, but I am not referring to any specific cases.”
Feldman, 64, served as chief deputy district attorney in the 18th Judicial District under former District Attorney Robert Gallagher. A Republican, Gallagher recently broke party ranks to endorse Feldman.
A resident of Littleton, Feldman spent 20 years as an Arapahoe County District Court judge, including two terms as presiding judge.
The judicial district leans Republican: GOP voters hold the edge in Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, while Arapahoe County is regarded as a swing county.
So-called “spree killers” often commit suicide at the end of their rampages, making such trials rare. One recent exception is One L. Goh, the suspect in the Oikos University in Oakland, who was captured after allegedly shooting and killing seven people at a Christian nursing school in April.