CENTENNIAL, Colo. — James Holmes made his first public appearance as an alleged killer on Monday, shambling into a Colorado courtroom with a bearing more like that of a teenage delinquent than the comic-book supervillain he reportedly fancied himself to be.
But Monday provided a first look at the man who allegedly opened fire in a crowded movie theater while wearing body armor and a gas mask that hid his face. Holmes’s hair was dyed an uneven and amateurish red, darkest at the crown of his head and then fading to pink, orange, yellow and finally to the brown of his sideburns.
Holmes walked just a few feet into the courtroom, sitting next to a defense lawyer in a jury-box seat, as far as possible from the family members of victims who were sitting in the gallery. Five sheriff’s deputies stood in the aisle, in case they tried anything. Two deputies stood near Holmes, in case he did.
But Holmes barely moved.
Judge William B. Sylvester read through the boilerplate beginnings of a big trial: orders to stay away from the shooting victims, warnings about Holmes’s right to remain silent. The suspect looked straight ahead. He looked down. He let his eyelids sink, and his shoulders; more than anything, Holmes looked lethargic.
He has not yet been officially charged, and Monday’s appearance, called an advisement, precedes a formal arraignment at the Arapahoe County Justice Center. Holmes is refusing to cooperate with investigators trying to learn what motivated the attack.
“He’s not talking to us,” Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters. Holmes has been assigned two public defenders, who have not commented publicly.
Carol Chambers, the district attorney for Arapahoe and several other counties, told reporters after the hearing that she had no information about whether Holmes was on medication during his appearance and that she could not explain his lack of emotion and his seemingly dazed look as the hearing unfolded.
Asked whether she anticipated an insanity defense, Chambers replied, “I don’t know that we’re anticipating anything right now.” She said Holmes is being held in isolation “for his safety.”
She said a decision on whether to pursue the death penalty in the case will be made after authorities consult with victims and their families.
“They will want to have, and we will want to get, their input before we make any kind of a decision on that,” Chambers said. She added that a death-penalty decision has to be made within 60 days after the arraignment.
At Monday’s hearing, Homes gave “a bizarre performance,” said Joseph E. diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District. “His entire demeanor was bizarre. Is this guy acting, or is this real? Is he psychotic? Is he seriously ill?
“There is no doubt he is a very disturbed person,” diGenova said. “But whether he is technically mentally ill for insanity-defense purposes remains to be seen.”
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a longtime associate of Oates, said Friday that Holmes had dyed his hair red so he would look like the Joker, the Batman villain, and told police when arrested that he was the Joker. Oates has not confirmed Kelly’s account.
The Joker is usually portrayed as having green hair, but in “The Dark Knight,” the second film in the latest Batman trilogy, the Joker character played by actor Heath Ledger wears a nurse’s uniform and a red wig in a scene in which he destroys a hospital.
Family stays silent
In San Diego, an attorney for Holmes’s family, Lisa Damiani, did not shed any light on the suspect’s frame of mind. “The family has elected not to discuss James or their relationship with James at this time,” she told reporters. Nor would his parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, talk about their son’s physical appearance or demeanor in court, Damiani said.
Neighbors and people close to the family said Arlene Holmes had confided to friends that she was very concerned about her son’s social isolation and had sought counseling for him years earlier. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
There were hints that James Holmes’s apparently withdrawn nature was in marked contrast with that of his younger sister, Chris. High school classmates and neighbors say James tended to want to answer only yes-or-no questions and never spoke out on his own.
Chris, five years younger, graduated from the same local high school. But she was described by friends and neighbors as gregarious and outgoing, an accomplished musician who was a guitarist at school and had a tomboy streak.
Neighbors don’t remember seeing James with any friends, but Chris was another story, with her friends coming frequently to the family home on Sparren Avenue.
“She was very outgoing,” said neighbor Tom Mai. A few months ago, “Chris has friends over, and they talked until late into the night. I came out, said, ‘Come on, guys, why don’t you go to bed?’ It was 1 or 2 in the morning.”
Mai, a retired electrical engineer who lives next door to the Holmeses, said he always found the family members to be kind and gentle, with no signs that James was troubled by anything other than shyness.
‘Demonic or something’
If Aurora police are right, James Holmes has lived the past four months by a private script to which only he knew the horrific ending. He stockpiled bullets and bulletproof gear, and built bombs and a tripwire, all without anyone catching on.
But this is no longer his story. It may be a year before Holmes faces trial. On Monday he was led into the courtroom, then led out, and in between looked worn down.
Afterward, outside the courthouse, David Sanchez said he had seen evil. Sanchez’s daughter and son-in-law were in the theater Friday. His daughter survived without injury. His son-in-law was shot in the right side of his head.
Holmes’s eyes were what bothered Sanchez: “Demonic or something.”
“There’s something wrong with that man,” he said.
Holmes disappeared back into the courthouse corridors, returning to solitary confinement. Sanchez left for his own appointment: His daughter was expected to give birth that day, to a son they’d named Hugo.
He said they planned to tell his son-in-law, Caleb Medely — even though they weren’t sure he would know.
“He is in a coma, but everybody talks to him,” Sanchez said. “We always heard that you can hear.”
Leonnig reported from Washington. Bill Branigin and Sari Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.