The former graduate student accused of opening fire at a midnight screening of the new "Batman" film in Colorado, killing 12 people, was charged on Monday with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder. By Keith Coffman and Chris Francescani.
James Holmes, who was arrested behind the Century 16 multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora moments after the July 20 shooting at a packed showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” made his second court appearance on Monday.
Fifty-eight people were wounded, some of whom remain in critical condition.
The first-degree murder charges make him eligible to face the death penalty, although prosecutors have not yet said whether they would seek it in the case.
Prosecutors essentially charged Holmes with two murder counts for each victim – one standard first-degree murder charge plus one count of murder with extreme indifference. They also filed two attempted murder counts for each of the wounded survivors.
Holmes, 24, who authorities say styled himself after Batman’s comic-book nemesis “the Joker,” appeared in court clad in jail garb, his hair still dyed bright orange but with the color fading to pink in places.
He sat impassively at a table with two defense lawyers through the 45 minute hearing but seemed more alert than during his initial court appearance a week ago, when he looked dazed and groggy.
The former neuroscience student spoke only once, quietly answering “yes” in response to a question from Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester. He mostly kept his gaze lowered and did not look at a courtroom gallery packed with members of the media and victims’ family members.
The judge set a pre-trial hearing for Sept. 27 and tentatively scheduled a preliminary hearing for the week of Nov. 13.
Police say Holmes entered Theater 9 wearing tactical body armor and a gas mask and tossed smoke bombs before spraying moviegoers with bullets from three guns.
Authorities who rushed to his apartment following the movie house massacre found it wired with enough explosives to bring down the three-story building and spent several days painstakingly dismantling the booby traps. Holmes was also charged on Monday with possessing an explosive device.
Pregnant survivor Ashley Moser suffered a miscarriage following the shooting but the loss of her fetus did not alter the number of murder charges because under Colorado law the unborn cannot be counted as homicide victims.
Moser, 25, was left paralyzed from the waist down from her own bullet wounds. Her daughter, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was the youngest of those who died in the shooting.
During the hearing, defense attorney Tamara Brady asked that prosecutors turn over evidence collected in the case. The defense is seeking a package that news reports have said was sent by Holmes to a University of Colorado psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton.
Prosecutors responded that they had not yet opened that parcel, which according to Fox News contained a notebook outlining his plans for the shooting, including stick-figure drawings.
Holmes, a San Diego native, was a doctoral student of neuroscience at the university’s Anschutz campus before turning in paperwork to drop out in June. Court documents filed on Friday by defense lawyers said he had been under Fenton’s care.
Police have not offered a motive for the shooting rampage that stunned the community of Aurora and evoked memories of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School less than 20 miles (32 kilometres) away in Littleton.
Authorities have said that following his arrest, Holmes had called himself “the Joker” and experts say his mental state could play a key role in the case.
The judge set an Aug. 9 date to consider requests from attorneys representing news organizations to unseal court records and investigative documents. He also said he would hold a hearing on Aug. 16 to determine what evidence should be considered protected between Holmes and his psychiatrist.
Following the hearing, Moser’s aunt, MaryEllen Hansen, said she found Holmes a “diabolical, evil presence.”
“But he looked very sane to me, he really did. His reaction looked different,” Hansen said. “When we’ve seen him before he looked like he was kind of spaced out or out of touch. But he seemed very, very alert today and very lucid as to what was going on.”
“The guy’s a coward and he looked defeated because he knows he’s not the one with the power any more, we are,” said U.S. Marine Donald Lader, who was in Theater 9 at the time of the shooting but escaped injury.
Holmes was armed on the night of the shooting with a Smith & Wesson M&P .223 semi-automatic rifle, similar to an AR-15 assault rifle; a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock .40-caliber handgun, according to police.
An additional Glock .40-caliber handgun was found in his car. All the weapons had been bought legally in the previous 60 days. DM
Photo by Reuters.
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