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Defense, prosecutors in Colorado theater massacre case trade accusations

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the Colorado movie theater massacre case responded on Tuesday to defense charges of foul play by accusing lawyers for gunman James Holmes of seeking to exploit victims' families to gain a legal advantage.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 in 2012 at a suburban Denver theater during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, and have said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

His defense team and the prosecution each says the other side has misled victims' families.

Last month, Holmes' defense accused the prosecution of interfering in their investigation by telling victims' families that defense lawyers wanted them to speak out against the death penalty in a bid to save Holmes' life.

A defense motion said the prosecution had "sabotaged the defense's credibility with the victim-witnesses ... and wrongly inflamed the victims and their families."

Prosecutors fired back on Tuesday, alleging a member of the defense team had set up meetings between victims' families and anti-death penalty groups, and had encouraged at least one relative of a victim to speak out publicly against capital punishment.

In a court filing, prosecutors said they have repeatedly told victims' families it is their choice if they speak to anyone about the case. It was right for Holmes' team to defend their client, prosecutors added.

"What the district attorney's office believes is not proper, is for the defense to throw a wolf in sheep's clothing at the victims," prosecutors wrote.

Holmes' lawyers have acknowledged the former neuroscience doctoral candidate was the lone shooter, but say the California native suffers from a chronic mental illness.

His trial is set to begin with jury selection in mid-October.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)

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