Odd appearance by Colorado shooting suspect
His hair dyed orange, eyes staring out blankly or drooping shut, presumed Colorado gunman James Holmes seemed unhinged Monday as he made a bizarre first appearance in court.
Holmes is accused of shooting dead 12 people and wounding 58 others at a cinema Friday in Aurora, outside Denver, as young moviegoers packed the first midnight screening of the latest Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Wearing a maroon prison jumpsuit, the 24-year-old graduate student didn’t speak as lawyers read out a list of accusations during the short procedural hearing at Arapahoe County District Court in the town of Centennial.
Holmes, a former PhD candidate in neuroscience, appeared unable to follow proceedings properly as his head bobbed up and down and he alternated between staring out wide-eyed and closing his eyes shut as if in a daze.
It was unclear if he was on some kind of medication and there was no indication of when the young man accused of one of America’s worst-ever mass shootings might undergo psychiatric evaluation.
Formal charges will be filed at Holmes’ arraignment next Monday. Prosecutors expect weeks of consultations with families of the victims before deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty.
“We will want to get their input before we make any decision on that,” said Arapahoe county district attorney Carol Chambers. “If the death penalty is sought, that is a very long process that impacts their lives for years.”
Only one person has been executed in Colorado since 1976.
Holmes gave himself up outside the cinema, still clad in the full body armor that witnesses described the gunman wearing as the bullets flew inside, but Chambers said his successful prosecution wasn’t a done deal.
“It is a case where we are still looking at the enormous amount of evidence, and we would never presume it is slam dunk,” she told reporters outside court.
Denver attorney and legal commentator Scott Robinson said that in his view lawyers for Holmes “have little choice except to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Under Colorado law, Holmes could face multiple murder charges as well as attempted murder charges for the wounded. He was ordered to remain in Arapahoe County jail, where he is being held in isolation, with no bail allowed.
About half of the 100 plus seats in the courtroom were reserved for victims and their family members, with a heavy contingent of deputy sheriffs providing visible security.
“Justice is very important to me,” said David Sanchez, whose pregnant daughter Katy and son-in-law Caleb were among the wounded. “It was important to support my daughter and her husband and their newborn baby who is coming.”
The gunman emerged from a fire exit on Friday shortly after the film began and threw two canisters of noxious gas into the crowd.
After firing one round directly into the air with a pump-action shotgun, he began shooting people at random with a military-style assault rifle that could dispatch 50 to 60 rounds a minute, witnesses said.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Holmes had painted his hair reddish orange and claimed he was the Joker, Batman’s sworn enemy in the comic book series that inspired the movie.
According to media reports and at least one witness, the gunman might have killed more people had his AR-15 assault rifle not jammed.
Calls for a re-examination of America’s gun laws mounted in the aftermath of the tragedy as it emerged that Holmes bought his four weapons legally, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition on the Internet.
Over eight weeks he stocked up on 6,300 rounds of ammunition: 3,000 for his .233 semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, another 3,000 for his two Glock pistols, and 300 cartridges for his pump-action shotgun.
Police said Sunday they had found Holmes’s computer inside his booby-trapped apartment -- rigged to kill anyone who entered -- which could provide crucial details about how he planned and executed the attack.
President Barack Obama paid emotional tribute to the victims and survivors of the Aurora cinema massacre as he visited the town on Sunday.
Aurora is located just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the scene of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two students shot dead 13 people before committing suicide.
That shooting prompted consternation in the United States and the rest of the world, but ultimately had no effect on America’s gun laws, which are backed by a constitutional amendment defending a citizen’s right to bear arms.