By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Lawyers for accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes, who faces possible execution if convicted of killing 12 moviegoers, said on Tuesday they need more time to file motions to challenge the state's sanity and death penalty laws.
Public defenders for the 25-year-old former graduate student, who claims he was psychotic during the shooting spree, said they plan on filing a handful of motions surrounding their client's court-ordered sanity examination.
"(T)hese motions involve very important and complex issues, many of which pertain to the death penalty and mental illness, and have never been filed or litigated before in the state of Colorado," defense lawyers wrote.
The request came as lawyers for both sides near the end of a series of pretrial hearings this month over non-capital punishment motions, mostly defense requests seeking to have much of the evidence against Holmes ruled inadmissible at trial.
Holmes is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside a suburban Denver theater during a viewing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in July 2012.
The rampage killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 70 others. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if he is convicted.
Holmes underwent a court-ordered sanity examination over the summer after he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the results have not been made public.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. set deadlines for capital punishment motions for later this month, ahead of a series of hearings related to the death penalty scheduled for December.
Public defenders said preparing for the October hearings has taken up much of their time and that they were "unable to make significant progress" in drafting the capital motions. It is unclear if the pleading, if granted by the judge, would push back the murder trial, which is scheduled to begin in February.
Separately, a motions hearing on Tuesday centered on whether FBI analysts, who tested evidence seized from Holmes' booby-trapped apartment, can be qualified as expert witnesses. Holmes rigged his apartment with a network of explosives that were disarmed by bomb technicians before detonating.
If deemed expert witnesses, the FBI forensic examiners can offer opinions as well as factual testimony.
Holmes has appeared more animated in recent court appearances, even laughing with members of his defense team before Tuesday's proceedings.
Samour said he will issue written rulings on the suppression motions and the extension request.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stacey Joyce)