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Colorado massacre hearing ends quickly; 2 days of brutal evidence

January 09, 2013|By Jenny Deam and Michael Muskal

CENTENNIAL, Colo. –The preliminary hearing of James E. Holmes, accused of staging a murderous attack on a suburban movie theater, ended earlier than expected Wednesday as the prosecution presented its last witness and the defense announced that it chose not to offer testimony.

Judge William B. Sylvester did not rule on whether Holmes will stand trail in the mass shooting, but set Friday morning for a return date and possible arraignment in the case.

Holmes is accused of 166 criminal counts in connection with the attack inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo, on July 20, killing 12 people and injuring as many as 70. The defense had been expected to call two witnesses in the preliminary hearing phase which began on Monday.

But, Daniel King, lawyer for Holmes, told Sylvester on Wednesday that the defense had a “change of position” and would not be putting on any witnesses.

PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

“This is neither the proper venue nor the time to put on a show or present some truncated defense,” King said Wednesday morning just before the court took its morning break.

WHO THEY WERE: Aurora theater shooting

The final prosecution witness was Aurora Police Sgt. Matthew Fyles who presented photos taken by Holmes on his cellphone. The photos taken from about 4:14 to about 8:27 p.m. on July 19 show Holmes with his arsenal hours before the attack.

During the presentation of the photos, Holmes appeared to smile, the first  emotion he has displayed in the proceedings, which began Monday.

Fyles also presented photos that he described as scouting pictures of the interior and exterior of the movie theater taken weeks before the attack.

TIMELINE: U.S. mass shootings

The preliminary hearing was originally expected to go all week, but the prosecution made quick strides in presenting its case on the first two days. They called law enforcement officials who testified that Holmes appeared to act in a methodical manner, planning the attack and planting booby-traps in his apartment.

Technically, the prosecution needs only to establish a probable cause that Holmes was the gunman who opened fire at the movie theater.

The grim testimony surrounding the chaos of the shooting inside Theater 9 of the Century 16 complex at times prompted police officers to break down on the witness stand and victims and their families to weep.

On Monday, the first police officers on the scene told of finding a blood-soaked theater with bodies and spent shell casings strewn amid spilled popcorn, abandoned flip-flops and incessantly ringing cellphones that had been dropped in the panic to escape. All the while, the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” continued to play above the screams of moviegoers.

Aurora police also told of a man captured just outside the theater’s emergency exit. He stood silently in full body armor with a semiautomatic handgun resting on the roof of his car, but he did not attempt to pick up the weapon. One officer said the man appeared emotionally detached from what was happening and even volunteered that his apartment was booby-trapped with homemade bombs.

That man was identified as Holmes, who has attended the proceedings but has looked calm throughout.

On Tuesday, witnesses described how Holmes began buying his arsenal as early as May 10. He purchased two Glock handguns, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle, along with 6,295 rounds of ammunition, targets, body armor and chemicals.

The horror of the attack was caught in 911 calls played in court on Tuesday. The sounds of 30 shots can be heard in one call that lasted just 27 seconds.

According to the testimony, Holmes also set an elaborate trap inside his apartment with trip wires, remote devices and chemical explosives designed to cause a fire or explosion should anyone enter. The point of the trap was to draw rescuers and police away from the movie theater, an FBI expert testified.

Holmes faces counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. He has not yet entered a plea and is being held without bond.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty, but much of the defense legal efforts will go to preventing the death sentence.

Lawyers for Holmes have indicated that that he is mentally ill. The lawyers have also focused their cross-examination on testimony that described Holmes as appearing emotionally detached during his arrest and on Holmes' unusual behavior after arrest. Police had placed bags on his hands to protect any gun residue and Holmes pretended to play puppets with them.

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Deam reported from Centennial, Colo.; Muskal reported from Los Angeles. 

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