US: ‘Silent’ James Holmes appears in court

James Holmes allegedly opened fire at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises”, killing 12 people.

Updated: Jul 23, 2012, 22:52 PM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Centennial: The suspected gunman in the Colorado theatre massacre appeared in court on Monday for the first time.

James Holmes, clad in body armour and armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns allegedly opened fire at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises”, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others.

His hair dyed orange-red and a dazed look on his face, an unshaven, handcuffed Holmes, 24, sat in maroon jailhouse jumpsuit as the judge advised him of the case. Holmes sat motionless, his eyes appearing tired and drooping.

At one point, he closed his eyes as the judge spoke. Prosecutors said later they didn`t know if Holmes was on medication. Authorities have said he is being held in isolation at the jail.

Holmes didn`t speak once during the hearing. His attorneys answered for him when the judge asked if he understood his rights.

One woman`s eyes welled up with tears during the hearing.

Holmes was arrested shortly after the Friday shooting. He is refusing to cooperate, authorities say. They said it could take months to learn what prompted the attack on the moviegoers.

He was brought over from the Arapahoe County detention facility and walked into the courtroom with attorneys and others.

He sat down in a jury box, seated next to one of his attorneys. His entrance was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him.

Some stared at him the entire hearing, including Tom Teves, the father of Alex Teves, who was killed in the shooting. Two women held hands tightly, one shaking her head.

After the hearing, prosecutor Carol Chambers said that "at this point, everyone is interested in a fair trial with a just outcome for everybody involved”.

Chambers earlier Monday said her office is considering pursuing the death penalty against Holmes. She said a decision will be made in consultation with victims` families.

David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during Holmes` hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped uninjured but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition.

"When it`s your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry," Sanchez said.

Sanchez said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medely, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had been waiting for a year to watch the movie.

Asked what punishment Holmes should get if convicted, Sanchez said, "I think death is."

Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. Holmes is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and he could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations.

Holmes has been assigned a public defender.

Security at the hearing was tight. Uniformed sheriff`s deputies were stationed outside, and deputies were positioned on the roofs of both court buildings at the Arapahoe County Justice Centre.

Police have said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday`s shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and at school.

Holmes` apartment was filled with trip wires, explosive devices and unknown liquids, requiring police, FBI officials and bomb squad technicians to evacuate surrounding buildings while spending most of Saturday disabling the booby traps.

Investigators found a Batman mask inside Holmes` apartment after they finished clearing the home, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said on Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the news media.

Officials at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus were looking into whether Holmes used his position in a graduate program to collect hazardous materials, but that disclosure was one of the few it has made three days after the massacre. It remained unclear whether Holmes` professors and other students at his 35-student PhD program noticed anything unusual about his behaviour.

His reasons for quitting the program in June also remained a mystery. Holmes recently took an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year. University officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

Amid the continuing investigation of Holmes and his background, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with the community holding a prayer vigil and President Barack Obama arriving to visit with families of the victims.

Obama said he told the families that "all of America and much of the world is thinking about them”. He met with them at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, which treated 23 of the people injured in the mass shooting; 10 remain there, seven hurt critically.

Congregations across Colorado prayed for the shooting victims and their relatives. Elderly churchgoers at an aging Presbyterian church within walking distance near Holmes` apartment joined in prayer, though none had ever met him.

Several thousand gathered for healing at the vigil on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the owner of a gun range told a news agency that Holmes applied to join the club last month but never became a member because of his behaviour and a "bizarre" message on his voicemail.

Holmes e-mailed an application to join the Lead Valley Range in Byers on June 25 in which he said he was not a user of illegal drugs or a convicted felon, said owner Glenn Rotkovich. When Rotkovich called to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week, Rotkovich said he heard a message on Holmes` voicemail that was "bizarre — guttural, freakish at best”.

Rotkovich left two other messages but eventually told his staff to watch out for Holmes at the July 01 orientation and not to accept him into the club, Rotkovich said.

The pastor for the suspect`s family recalled a shy boy who was driven to succeed academically.

"He wasn`t an extrovert at all. If there was any conversation, it would be because I initiated it, not because he did," said Jerald Borgie, senior pastor of Penasquitos Lutheran Church. Borgie said he never saw the suspect mingle with others his age at church. He last spoke with Holmes about six years ago.

"He had some goals. He wanted to succeed, he wanted to go out, and he wanted to be the best," Borgie said. "He took pride in his academic abilities. A good student. He didn`t brag about it."

During the attack early Friday, Holmes allegedly set off gas canisters and used a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol to open fire on theatre-goers, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said.

Holmes had bought the weapons at local gun stores in the past two months. He recently bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet, the chief said.

The gunman`s semiautomatic assault rifle jammed during the attack, forcing him to switch to another gun with less firepower, a federal law enforcement official told a news agency. That malfunction and weapons switch might have saved some lives.

Oates said a 100-round ammunition drum was found in the theatre, but he said he didn`t know whether it jammed or emptied.

The shooting was the worst in the US since the November 05, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.

(With Agency inputs)