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Holmes ordered to stand trial in theater shooting

A judge rules evidence is sufficient to try James Holmes on 166 counts in the Aurora, Colo., attack that left 12 people dead. His defense team says it's not ready to enter a plea.

January 10, 2013|By Jenny Deam, Los Angeles Times
  • Defense attorney Daniel King leads his team to a court hearing for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes in Centennial, Colo.
Defense attorney Daniel King leads his team to a court hearing for Aurora… (Ed Andrieski / AP Photo )

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — James E. Holmes will stand trial in the Aurora theater rampage that left 12 people dead and 70 others wounded, a judge ruled Thursday night.

Judge William B. Sylvester of Colorado's 18th Judicial District found enough evidence to bind the suspected gunman over for trial on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. Sylvester ordered that Holmes be arraigned Friday at a previously scheduled hearing and that he continue to be held without bail.

Defense attorneys have said Holmes is mentally ill, leading to speculation that they will offer an insanity defense. In a motion earlier Thursday, they said they were not ready to enter a plea.

Holmes, 25, is accused of storming a theater July 20 during a post-midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." The former neuroscience doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Denver surrendered to police outside the Century 16 theater complex minutes after a gunman unleashed a fusillade of bullets and tear gas inside the crowded theater.

He was wearing body armor, police officers testified during a three-day preliminary hearing, and his hands were on top of his car — along with a gun, which he did not try to pick up. Holmes volunteered that his apartment was booby-trapped, officers testified.

At the preliminary hearing, which ended Wednesday, officers publicly detailed the horrific scene inside Theater 9 for the first time. Aurora Police Officer Justin Grizzle described people crawling for safety covered in blood, and abandoned cellphones ringing as the movie continued to play. Grizzle slipped on something as he entered the theater, he said, and later realized it was blood.

When officers saw there weren't enough ambulances for all the victims, they began ferrying them to hospitals in patrol cars. After several trips, Grizzle said, there was so much blood in his car that he could hear it sloshing as he drove around corners.

Other evidence at the hearing included 911 tapes of panicked moviegoers pleading for help as gunfire boomed in the background.

Witnesses described Holmes' two-month shopping spree to amass an arsenal of weapons, explosive chemicals and military-style gear. A Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle was purchased June 7 — the day he failed a key oral exam at the university.

Holmes also apparently took some cellphone self-portraits a few hours before going to the theater. In them, he mugged for the camera with a semiautomatic handgun. Other photos on Holmes' phone appeared to show the emergency exit of Theater 9.

The evidence included a question from two online dating profiles said to be Holmes', in which he asks would-be girlfriends whether they will visit him in prison.

Public defender Daniel King did not present witnesses at the preliminary hearing. "This is neither the proper venue nor the time to put on a show or present some truncated defense," he said in court Wednesday.

At any point, the defense may argue that Holmes is not competent to stand trial and is unable to assist in his own defense. If so, Holmes would undergo extensive psychiatric evaluations before a judge determined his competency. That could delay the proceedings indefinitely: A defendant cannot be put on trial unless he can understand what is happening.

If a defendant enters an insanity plea, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is sane.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty. If Holmes were found to be insane or to have a mental defect, he could not be put to death.

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