Colorado massacre suspect silent in first court hearing
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The man accused of killing a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater during a showing of the new "Batman" film made his first court appearance on Monday, looking drowsy and emotionless, his unruly hair dyed shades of orange and red.
James Eagan Holmes, 24, who was detained immediately after the massacre, appeared groggy during the brief hearing, looking straight ahead and occasionally closing his eyes as if fighting off sleep. He was shackled at the wrists and ankles.
About 40 members of the victims' families were seated on the left side of the courtroom. One family member seated in the front row glared at Holmes throughout.
When Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester asked Holmes a question, he remained expressionless and an attorney answered for him.
Police say he presented a far different figure last Friday when, dressed in a gas mask and body armor and toting three guns, he opened fire at a packed midnight show at a theater complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora in the early hours.
The dead include war veterans, an aspiring sportscaster who had narrowly escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall earlier this summer and a 6-year-old girl. Fifty-eight other people were wounded, and many of them have serious injuries.
The former neuroscience student also left his apartment booby-trapped with explosives that police said could have destroyed the apartment complex. They conducted a controlled detonation over the weekend.
Police say they are still searching for a motive for the crime, which baffled fellow students and acquaintances. They described Holmes, a native of San Diego, as a quiet high-achiever whose past gave little inkling that anything was amiss.
At the hearing the judge set a date of next Monday for formal charges to be filed.
Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said she would consult with the victims and families of the dead before making a decision on seeking the death penalty.
Chambers, who has prosecuted two of the three inmates now on Colorado's death row, told reporters outside the court house that the decision on the death penalty had to be made within 60 days of his arraignment, "so it's months down the line."
The crime meets all the elements of Colorado capital case law, including premeditation, multiple victims, and the killing of a child, said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman.
"If James Holmes isn't executed, Colorado may as well throw away its death penalty law," he said.
"I think would be justice," said David Sanchez, whose son-in-law Caleb Medely, 23, was shot in the head while attending the movie with his wife, Katie Medely, who is Sanchez's daughter. She is nine months pregnant.
"When it's your own daughter, and she escaped death by mere seconds, it really makes you angry," Sanchez said outside the court house. He had come for the hearing but was not able to get into the courtroom.
HOLMES' FAMILY LAWYER
It was not clear if any of Holmes' family attended the hearing, but a lawyer retained by the family, Lisa Damiani, held a press conference to clarify a remark by the suspect's mother to anABC-TV reporter soon after the shooting.
Damiani, speaking in San Diego, said that at the time of that early morning phone call, Arlene Holmes was not yet aware of the attack or accusations that her son was involved.
In telling the reporter, "You have the right person," Arlene Holmes was confirming her identity and not referring to her son.
The attorney said Arlene Holmes' comment to ABC had been misconstrued by some media to suggest that she was not surprised to hear that her son had been involved in the shooting rampage.
Damiani also said that the family was "doing as well as they can" under the circumstances but would not be discussing their son or his relationship with the family.
Holmes is in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners. Holmes had recently dropped out of a doctoral degree program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical School, a few blocks from his apartment.
(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani, Dan Whitcomb and Marty Graham. Writing by Barbara Goldberg and Claudia Parsons. Editing by David Storey)