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Judge delays arraignment of theater shooting suspect James Holmes

A Colorado judge delays the arraignment of theater shooting suspect James E. Holmes until March 12.

January 11, 2013|By Jenny Deam, Los Angeles Times
  • Yousef Gharbi, who was wounded in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, is among victims and family members attending court proceedings for suspect James E. Holmes. A judge has delayed arraignment until March 12.
Yousef Gharbi, who was wounded in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting,… (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A judge Friday delayed the arraignment of theater shooting suspect James E. Holmes on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges until March 12, granting a defense request for more time to "research the appropriate plea."

Holmes is accused of unleashing a massacre on July 20 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that killed 12 and injured at least 70 others. Holmes has not yet entered a plea and has been held without bail since his arrest moments after the shooting.

Late Thursday, Judge William B. Sylvester of Colorado's 18th Judicial District ruled that the prosecution had established probable cause on all counts and ordered an arraignment Friday. But he also noted that he expected the defense to ask for a delay.

Earlier in the week, the prosecution offered detailed and often graphic evidence at a preliminary hearing that Holmes plotted for months to kill as many people as possible in a place where escape would be difficult. Prosecutors also presented testimony that Holmes was the person who opened fire on the crowd at a 12:05 a.m. showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

During the 15-minute hearing Friday, Sylvester said that although he was "empathetic" with the wishes of victims' family members who wanted to see Holmes tried quickly, he wanted to be careful that "this matter is done correctly" to limit the chance of a possible appeal later.

The delay angered some family members. As Sylvester recessed the hearing, Steve Hernandez, the father of Rebecca Wingo, who was killed in the theater, blurted, "Rot in hell, Holmes."

Minutes later, Sylvester reconvened the court and told Hernandez, "I'm terribly sorry for your loss. I can't begin to imagine the emotions that are raging." But he added that he would not tolerate further outbursts.

Hernandez apologized and said he meant no disrespect.

Defense attorneys have indicated Holmes, a former neuroscience student, is mentally ill. It is widely thought the defense could offer a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Colorado is one of only nine states where the burden to disprove insanity falls on the prosecution.

Though the prosecution has worked to show that Holmes plotted the shooting for months, that is not the same as being sane, said Rick Kornfeld, a Denver lawyer who has worked as a federal prosecutor and a defense attorney.

The issue will be "what was going on in his head at the time of the shooting," Kornfeld said.

It is not yet known whether George Brauchler, the newly elected Arapahoe County district attorney, will seek the death penalty. He has 63 days after arraignment to decide. Capital punishment is rare in Colorado.

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