Prosecutors charged grad school dropout James Holmes on Monday with killing a dozen people and trying to slay scores more in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
The 24-year-old neuroscience student allegedly burst into a midnight viewing of the latest Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” then opened fire into the packed auditorium with a high-powered assault rifle.
Twelve people died at the scene, 10 of the 58 who were wounded in the July 20 attack remain hospitalized and four are in a critical condition, leaving open the possibility that the huge charge sheet could yet grow longer.
Among those clinging to life in intensive care is Ashley Moser, 25, whose six-year-old daughter Veronica was killed in the massacre. Moser was shot in the neck and stomach and has since lost her unborn child.
Prosecutors have said it will be several weeks before a decision is made on whether or not to seek the death penalty for Holmes. Only one person has been executed in Colorado since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
But the 40-page charge sheet underlined their efforts to ensure he is severely punished.
Holmes faces two counts of first degree murder for each of the 12 people killed -- one each for their deliberate killing and one more for killing through “depraved indifference” to the lives of his victims.
He also faces 116 attempted murder charges for wounding 58 more people in the theater with indiscriminate firing, one count of possession of an explosive device and one sentence enhancement count for a “crime of violence.”
Authorities say Holmes claimed he was “The Joker”, Batman’s sworn enemy in the comic book series that inspired director Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, which features British-born actor Christian Bale as “the Caped Crusader.”
He stunned observers with his bizarre first court appearance last week when he alternated between staring out wild-eyed and slumping drowsily under a mop of brightly-dyed orange and red hair.
Holmes appeared more focused Monday, saying “yes” just once in reply to a question from the judge, William Sylvester.
There has been speculation that stress over failing an important oral exam may have been the trigger that caused Holmes, a promising neuroscience student who had won a prestigious government grant, to become unhinged.
ABC News’ affiliate in Denver, KMGH-TV, reported that Holmes purchased a high-powered rifle on June 7, hours after failing the key oral test. Three days later, he dropped out of his university program.
Prosecutors have been battling defense lawyers over a package Holmes sent to his psychiatrist at the University of Colorado portending the midnight massacre on July 20 at the cinema in Aurora, outside Denver.
Attorneys for Holmes disclosed on Friday that he had been a patient of University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton as they sought to gain access to a package he had mailed to her prior to the massacre.
Holmes’s lawyers are accusing prosecutors of leaking to the media the existence of the package -- reportedly containing macabre plans, including drawings of a stick-figure gunman mowing down victims.
Although the shooting has triggered some soul searching in the United States there has been no concerted political will to address the toxic gun law issue, especially four months out from a presidential election.
Holmes is said to have stocked up on more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet and to have bought four weapons in local gun shops.
He gained access to the movie theater via a fire exit shortly after the start of the highly-anticipated film’s premier on July 20 and threw two canisters of noxious gas into the auditorium, witnesses and police said.
After firing into the air with a pump-action shotgun, the former graduate student allegedly began shooting people with a military-style assault rifle capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds a minute.
He gave himself up outside the cinema, still clad in the body armor witnesses described the gunman wearing.