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Holmes 'wanted to kill them all,' prosecutor says

Prosecutors finish presenting evidence to prove that James E. Holmes should stand trial in last year's deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. The defense offers no rebuttal.

January 09, 2013|By Jenny Deam, Los Angeles Times
  • Karen Pearson, the lead prosecutor, arrives for the third day of a preliminary hearing for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes at the courthouse in Centennial, Colo.
Karen Pearson, the lead prosecutor, arrives for the third day of a preliminary… (Ed Andrieski / Associated…)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Prosecutors closed their circle of evidence against James E. Holmes on Wednesday, depicting him as a methodical and ruthless killer who plotted for months to attack as many people as possible in a packed suburban movie theater.

"He didn't care who he killed or how many he killed. He wanted to kill them all," Assistant Dist. Atty. Karen Pearson said at the end of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to try Holmes on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in the rampage that killed 12 people and injured at least 70 others in Aurora, Colo.

Chief Judge William B. Sylvester, of Colorado's 18th Judicial District, chose not to rule Wednesday on whether the prosecution had showed probable cause on the charges to send the case to trial. Instead, he called for a status hearing on Friday, with the possibility of an arraignment. Holmes has not yet entered a plea.

PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

Public defender Daniel King offered no argument or statement challenging probable cause. He previously had indicated in court filings that he planned to call witnesses to rebut prosecution testimony, especially in regards to Holmes' mental state. But in the end, he said, "This is neither the proper venue nor the time to put on a show or present some truncated defense."

Holmes' public defenders have said he is mentally ill, suggesting the possibility of an insanity defense. If Holmes pleads not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect, he would undergo extensive psychiatric evaluations that could delay the proceedings.

It could be months, if not years, before Holmes is tried — if ever, said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver. If an insanity plea is entered, the burden falls on the prosecution to prove to a jury that he was not insane beyond a reasonable doubt.

WHO THEY WERE: Aurora theater shooting

In another legal scenario, the defense could delay offering any plea by declaring Holmes incompetent to stand trial and assist in his own defense. Silverman, who has in the courtroom for numerous hearings, noted this option seemed likely because Holmes had never appeared to be engaged in the proceedings and could not be seen talking to his attorneys in court.

A judge determines competency after psychiatric evaluations, Silverman said, adding that a defendant does not stand trial until he or she can understand the proceedings.

"If I were a betting man — and I am — I would not bet on a trial in 2013," Silverman said.

It has not been determined whether the newly elected district attorney will seek the death penalty in the case.

If Holmes is found insane or has a mental defect, he cannot be put to death.

During the hearing, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Holmes might have understood the consequences of his actions and knew right from wrong, Silverman said.

Police testified that Holmes volunteered that his apartment was booby-trapped, potentially saving officers' lives. Holmes also posted a message on two online dating sites prior to the shooting asking would-be girlfriends if they would visit him in prison.

Pearson argued at the close of the hearing Wednesday that the burden of proof had been more than met for trying Holmes for murder and extreme indifference under Colorado law, adding that her office could have brought as many as 1,500 counts against him for every person in Theater 9, where the shooting occurred, and the adjacent Theater 8, where some were wounded by bullets fired through the walls.

"He picked the perfect venue for this crime," Pearson said. She said Holmes knew in advance that a movie theater would be a place "where people are packed in" and that it would be difficult to escape. She added that Holmes also knew that it would be logistically difficult for ambulances to respond to the movie complex, so wounded would go longer without treatment.

She ticked off the evidence presented over three days in attempt to show both premeditation and that Holmes was the shooter:

His shopping spree for weapons, military-type combat gear and ammunition that dated back to May 10; a surveillance tape of Holmes entering the Century 16 theater complex minutes before the shooting began; a series of photographic self-portraits Holmes took at his apartment a few hours before going to the theater showing him mugging for his iPhone, wearing black contact lenses to darken his eyes, orange curls peeking from under a black skull cap.

Sgt. Matthew Fyles of the Aurora Police Department, the final prosecution witness, presented the photos from the cellphone, including the self-portraits taken July 19 between 4:12 p.m. and 8:27 p.m. The last picture was taken about four hours before the first 911 call came from Theater 9.

As the photos of him were shown, Holmes appeared to briefly smile. Otherwise, he remained virtually expressionless throughout the three-day hearing.

Prosecutors also showed photos taken in late June and early July of the theater complex, including a purple emergency exit door.

Gas masks and body armor were recovered at the scene when Holmes was arrested. Fyles said police confiscated several plastic clips, like those used to hold down picnic tablecloths, wrapped in turquoise duct tape. One of those clips was found by police on the blood-stained emergency exit door to Theater 9, holding it ajar.

Later police found a roll of turquoise tape at Holmes' booby-trapped apartment, another sign of his deliberation, the prosecution said. The traps included materials to cause a major fire, apparently designed to draw authorities away from the movie theater.

Prosecutors presented other photos captured by police from Holmes' phone showing a neatly laid-out array of the weaponry that would be confiscated from the theater and outside it when he was arrested.

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