James Holmes charged with 24 counts of murder in Colorado theater massacre

July 30, 2012

As the judge listed 142 charges against James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 during a shooting spree at a movie theater, relatives of the victims and others stared coldly at the orange-haired man in restraints.

Several tried to make eye contact, while others focused elsewhere or kept their gaze hidden behind sunglasses. There was a young woman with her leg and arm in bandages. One man sat tensely poised, as if he might lunge forward.

Eight police officers stood guard. But there were no outbursts or shows of emotion, despite the atmosphere in the courtroom.

The 142 charges include 24 counts of first-degree murder, two for each of the 12 people who were killed as they watched a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie at a theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb, early on July 20. One of each pair of murder counts is for acting with deliberation and intent, the other for displaying “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

A charge of first-degree murder carries a minimum penalty of life in prison and a maximum of death.

Holmes is also charged with 116 counts of attempted murder — two counts for each of the 58 people who reported they were injured that night. He also faces one count of using a deadly weapon in commission of a violent crime and one count of possession of explosive devices.

In the 45 minutes Holmes was in the courtroom, he seemed dazed and emotionless. His hair was still dyed bright orange, but dark roots had emerged during more than 10 days in custody. A light-colored beard covered his face.

Holmes mostly sat back in his chair, sometimes swaying side to side. His gaze often drifted to those speaking, but he mostly stared down at the table before him. At one point, he stared at the ceiling. At another, he scrunched his eyes closed. He spoke loudly only once, when District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester asked if he understood that his attorneys had waived the right to a time restriction for his preliminary hearing.

“Yes,” Holmes said.

MaryEllen Hansen watched Holmes’s every move, hoping to understand something about how a neuroscience doctoral student could end up sitting where he was. Hansen’s niece, Ashley Moser, was at the movie that night with her 6-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

Veronica was killed. Ashley Moser, who was pregnant, has suffered a miscarriage since the shooting, according to her relatives, and she is paralyzed from the waist down.

“It was very important to come today to see him for what he was,” said Hansen, a retired principal. “He had a persona of evilness to him.”

While Hansen chose to sit in the courtroom, others opted to watch the proceedings on a television screen in the courtroom next door. Afterward, prosecutors and victim advocates met with the group to explain what was to come, to manage expectations and to answer questions, according to several people who were there.

“It is going to be a long process,” said Don Lader, 27, who with his wife escaped injury during the attack. Lader attended the hearing wearing a black “Dark Knight Rises” T-shirt. “There are going to be a lot of triggers. I hope that those personally involved take care of themselves,” he said.

At the hearing, Sylvester also heard several motions from Holmes’s attorneys, who want access to documents related to the investigation. Prosecutors said they have thousands of pages of police reports and long lists of witnesses.

Tamara A. Brady, a public defender representing Holmes, said she and others have yet to see much of that information. “We are operating simply on things we have heard and things we assume,” she said. Prosecutors agreed to share much of their documentation in the next few days.

Sylvester set Aug. 16 to hear a motion to determine whether information contained in a package that Holmes allegedly sent to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the shooting is privileged communication between a patient and a doctor. News reports described the notebook as a journal of sorts that included crude drawings of a mass gun attack. It is in dispute when the package arrived at the university, but it was seized by police July 23.

Although Sylvester did not discuss the leak of information about that journal, which Holmes’s attorneys want investigated, the judge urged the lawyers: “We absolutely, positively need to ensure and maintain the integrity of the process.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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