James Holmes, the suspect in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater this month, was formally charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder, a capital charge, and 116 counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Prosecutors from the office of Carol Chambers, the district attorney for Arapahoe County, Colorado, presented the charges today at a 44-minute hearing in state court in Centennial, a Denver suburb. Twelve people died and at least 58 were injured during the attack July 20 during a midnight showing of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.”
First-degree murder can be punishable by death under Colorado law, and multiple counts can be tied to individual murders, depending on state statute. Holmes was also charged with one count of possessing an explosive device and a sentence- enhancing count for unlawful use of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
The shooting in the Aurora movie theater was the deadliest in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999 and the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since November 2009, when 13 people were killed at Fort Hood in Texas.
During an initial court appearance July 23, Holmes appeared at times lethargic and at others distracted. Dressed in red prison clothing and with his hair dyed orange, he didn’t speak.
Today he appeared calmer, conferring with his lawyers and responding “yes” when asked if he wanted to waive a 35-day deadline for a preliminary hearing. He didn’t enter a plea. The 116-seat courtroom, half of it reserved for the families of victims and victims’ advocates, was full.
Tamara Brady, one of Holmes’s attorneys from the state public defender’s office, asked that the case file remain sealed because the defense doesn’t yet know what’s in the police reports. Prosecutors said there are already thousands of pages of police reports.
Prosecutors said they would supply the defense with surveillance video from the University of Colorado mailroom of a package Holmes allegedly sent to a psychiatrist, identified in court filings as Lynne Fenton.
Brady told Judge William Sylvester that she expected Fenton to be subpoenaed.
Sylvester ordered the criminal complaint unsealed and set a hearing for Aug. 9 on efforts to have the rest of the record opened. The judge also scheduled a four-day preliminary hearing in the murder case to begin on Nov. 13.
Each death is covered by two separate counts, one for premeditated murder, the other for murder “under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally.” The attempted murder charges are likewise doubled for each of the injured.
Holmes bought a ticket for the film, entered the theater and watched for a while before propping open an exit door and leaving, according to police. He went to a white Hyundai parked outside, put on a helmet and ballistic vest, armed himself and returned to the theater, police said.
Police apprehended him behind the building, located in a shopping mall, after the first 911 call at 12:39 a.m. Three weapons were retrieved at the scene. A fourth, a .40 caliber Glock handgun, was found in Holmes’s car.
Holmes allegedly referred to himself as “the Joker,” a Batman villain, as he was being arrested. A former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, he didn’t have a criminal record, police said. Holmes attended high school in San Diego, where his parents and other relatives still live.
He began buying weapons in May at stores in the Aurora region, said Dan Oates, the city’s police chief. Authorities found a surveillance video of Holmes picking up 150 pounds of ammunition at a Federal Express outlet in Colorado, said a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
Investigators interviewed a United Parcel Service Inc. driver who said Holmes had 90 packages delivered to his workplace on the University of Colorado medical campus, the official said.
The basic defense tactic when faced with the death penalty is to delay and stall, according to Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice as a criminal defense attorney who was at the courthouse today.
“The longer the case goes on, the longer your client stays alive,” he said.
The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).
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