The man accused of shooting 12 people to death at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, was clad almost head-to-toe in armor when police caught him after the July 20 rampage, an officer testified.
The policeman, Jason Obiatt, was the first witness called yesterday at a weeklong preliminary hearing in state court in Centennial to determine whether James Holmes should stand trial on 166 counts, including charges of murder and attempted murder. Obiatt described to Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester how Holmes behaved at the time of his arrest.
“It was like there weren’t normal emotional responses to anything,” said Obiatt, who was among the first police to arrive on the scene of the shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, near Denver. Obiatt said Holmes was sweating under his armor, smelled bad and had dilated pupils.
The hearing comes less than a month after the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 28 dead, including the gunman, his mother and 20 children. Separately, Aurora police this weekend stormed a house after a standoff with another gunman and found four dead bodies, including the gunman’s, the Associated Press reported.
Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, is charged with first-degree murder, which can carry the death penalty in Colorado, and more than 100 counts of attempted murder.
Obiatt testified that Holmes mentioned there were bombs at his apartment and said they would go off “if you trip them.”
“He seemed very detached from it all,” Obiatt told defense lawyer Daniel King under cross-examination.
Thirteen-year Aurora police veteran Justin Grizzle, a firefighter paramedic before becoming a police officer, recounted arriving at the scene and seeing Holmes. “He just looked at me and smiled,” Grizzle said.
“A smirk,” Grizzle said, after prosecutor Rich Orman asked him to describe the smile.
Grizzle testified that he almost slipped and fell on blood on the floor just outside the door to the theater. A tear-gas like substance burned his eyes and throat, and cell phones were constantly ringing, he said. Grizzle went on to describe seeing what he thought were dead bodies, pausing to tell the judge he was having a hard time testifying.
The officer said the first victims he took to the hospital were a man in the front seat and a woman in the back who appeared to be the parents of the youngest person killed, 6- year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
The man asked where his daughter was and wanted to return to the theater. Grizzle pressed on, with his lights and sirens, to Aurora South Hospital. When the man opened the door and tried to jump out, Grizzle said he wrestled with him to keep him in the car for more than half the trip to the hospital.
Yesterday afternoon, King cross-examined Arapahoe County coroner Michael J. Doberson, who performed half of the autopsies in the case and ruled the deaths homicides. Under questioning, the coroner said his definition of homicide was “clinical,” not legal, and that he had not drawn a conclusion as to the perpetrator’s state of mind.
King said there are different levels of homicide and that, for example, one could plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
A police officer testified that Holmes purchased his ticket for the movie on July 8, 12 days before the shooting. Police officer Matthew Ingui said surveillance video from the night of the shooting showed more than 100 people running from the theater.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Sylvester will determine whether there’s enough evidence against Holmes to proceed to trial.
“This preliminary hearing may influence the national and Colorado debate on gun control and capital punishment,” said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice as a criminal defense attorney.
The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).
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