CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Almost six months after the bloody massacre by a lone gunman at a suburban movie theater stunned the nation, prosecutors on Monday began to outline their case against James E. Holmes during what is expected to be a week-long preliminary hearing.
The hearing is the first comprehensive look at the prosecution’s case in the bloody rampage that left 12 dead and at least 70 wounded in the first moments after midnight on July 20.
The preliminary hearing is a proceeding to determine whether the prosecution's case is strong enough to warrant a trial. It is one step in what is expected to be a lengthy legal process that is less about whether Holmes, now 25, was the gunman and more about what penalty he could face. The defense is expected to argue that Holmes’ mental state prevents him from facing the death penalty.
PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting
Holmes is charged with 166 criminal counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons violations in the attack on the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” was playing. Holmes, a former neuroscience student, has been held without bail and in isolation at the Arapahoe County Jail. he has not yet entered a plea in the case.
More than an hour before the hearing began, the line of people at the Arapahoe County Justice Center stretched from the front door to the parking lot, with hundreds standing in sub-freezing temperatures waiting to get in. Among them were Caren and Tom Teves, whose son Alex died in the theater.
WHO THEY WERE: Aurora theater shooting
“I had to be here,” Caren Teves said. She and her husband traveled from Arizona to Colorado. About 100 of the victims and their families are expected to attend the weeklong hearing.
But not all were emotionally able to deal with what is expected to be a grisly recitation of evidence of the deadly attack. Teves said her son's girlfriend, whose life Alex saved by shielding her when the gunfire began, will not attend. Teves said the girlfriend has been unable to watch any news on television since the shooting.
Police have said that Holmes purchased weapons, ammunition, explosives and body armor. He bought a ticket to the show and left the theater but made sure the door was not locked. He then returned with his weapons and began the carnage, exited the theater and was arrested outside, according to police.
TIMELINE: U.S. mass shootings
The defense team representing Holmes has already said he is mentally ill, so it is widely expected his lawyers will seek an insanity defense. It was unclear how much information on his mental condition will be allowed at this hearing. Three days after the shooting, District Judge William Sylvester forbade attorneys and investigators from discussing the case publicly; many court documents have been filed under seal.
Even though the preliminary hearing is a major step, the public has seen the shackled Holmes at previous court appearances. In addition, the prosecution and defense have argued over the physical evidence and whether a meeting between Holmes and a psychiatrist is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. The defense lawyers have said that Holmes tried to call the psychiatrist moments before the shooting began.
Sylvester has allowed the defense to call two witnesses who are expected to testify about his health at this week’s proceedings.
Special correspondent Jenny Deam reported from Colorado. Staff writer Michael Muskal reported from Los Angeles.
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