New Judge In Colorado Theater Shooting Trial Is Salvadoran Immigrant

The new judge taking over the case of James Holmes, the man accused in last year’s Colorado movie theater shooting that killed 12 people, is an immigrant from El Salvador who graduated from Columbine High School.

The judge, Carlos A. Samour Jr., will be presiding over one of the most-watched cases in the United States, one that intensified the debate over gun control laws.

Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is charged in connection with opening fire in a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo. during the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." He also booby-trapped his apartment to explode and kill any police who responded.

On Monday, it became clear that the case could take years in court after prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty. Prosecutors want the case wrapped up by spring of next year, but defense attorneys say there's no way that can happen. They said they don't want the trial rushed and would do whatever it takes to defend Holmes' life.

The expected length of the case prompted State District Judge William Sylvester to name Samour to take over, saying that he could not carry out his responsibility for the overall running of the court and preside over a complicated death penalty case.

Samour, who presides over civil and criminal cases, came to the United States with his family in 1979 at the age of 13, according to the website of the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, which gave the judge high ratings. He graduated from Columbine High School, where in 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 15 people and wounded 23.

Samour is evidently active in the Latino community, serving on the elected board of directors of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, and volunteering as a Spanish language presenter for a program called “Our Courts,” which explains to the public how courts work.

He graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver, where he majored in psychology, and got his law degree at the University of Denver.

He had a private law practice for five years before becoming Deputy District Attorney in Denver for a decade. His appointment to District Judge came in 2006.

A review of Samour by the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation said: “Lawyers and non-lawyers alike, including members of this commission, who have observed Judge Samour in his courtroom, have found him to be very friendly, efficient and professional. He is praised for his knowledge of the law and his fairness.”

Legal analysts say a plea deal is still possible in the Colorado theater shootings despite a rare public quarrel between prosecutors and the defense.

Even though prosecutors want the death penalty for Holmes, they could still change course and reach a deal that would send him to prison for life without parole in exchange for a guilty plea, experts say.

Prosecutors reacted angrily last week when the defense disclosed in a court document that Holmes offered to plead guilty if he could avoid execution.

This story contains contributions by The Associated Press.