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Colorado judge denies theater rampage victims access to criminal files

by
A sign is seen at a memorial for the theater-goers killed in the July 20, 2012 mass shooting, in Aurora, Colorado July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Ric
A sign is seen at a memorial for the theater-goers killed in the July 20, 2012 mass shooting, in Aurora, Colorado July 27, 2012. REUTERS/Ric

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Survivors of the shooting rampage that left 12 moviegoers slain during the showing of a Batman film in Colorado lost a bid in court on Tuesday to obtain sealed evidence in the criminal case for review in their civil suit against the theater chain.

The request for access to law enforcement's investigative files was brought by three individuals wounded in the massacre who have sued Cinemark USA in U.S. district court in Denver, accusing the company of lax theater security.

A total of 58 people were injured, in addition to the 12 people killed, when a gunman opened fire on fellow Cinemark patrons in the Denver suburb of Aurora as they watched a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The suspect, James Holmes, a 24-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, is charged with dozens of counts of murder and attempted murder stemming from the shooting spree.

Lawyers for survivors suing the theater chain went before the judge presiding over Holmes' murder case asking for permission to review arrest warrant affidavits and transcripts or tapes of emergency 911 calls from the July 20 rampage.

But Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester ruled that until a hearing is held to determine if there is enough evidence to bind Holmes over for trial. "It is particularly important that such information not be disclosed," he said.

Sylvester also said that because the 911 calls remain in the hands of the Aurora police department, and are not part of the court's official case file, he was not at liberty to immediately overrule the city's decision refusing to grant access to the documents.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys for Holmes opposed opening the files to the victims.

In a motion seeking dismissal of the federal lawsuit, lawyers for Texas-based Cinemark said its employees could not have anticipated having to deal with "a madman's mass murder" at the theater.

"It would be patently unfair, and legally unsound, to impose on Cinemark, a private business in the entertainment industry, the duty and burden to have foreseen and prevented the criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky," the motion said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

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