Three days after allegedly killing 12 and wounding 58 in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes appeared in a Centennial, Colorado, courtroom on Monday (July 23) morning.
Wearing a maroon prison jumpsuit, his hair dyed bright red, Holmes stared wide-eyed as Eighteenth Judicial District Chief Judge William Sylvester ordered the records in the case sealed at the 9:30 a.m. MT hearing. Told that he has a right to a trial and that his bail has been revoked due to the nature of the crime, Holmes sat mute and glum, his eyes cast down and blinking erratically at times, seemingly unable to focus his visions and showing little emotion during the brief appearance. Underneath his prison clothes, a defeated-looking Holmes appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest and had his hands and feet shackled.
Holmes, who police said opened fire on a crowd at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado early Friday morning, did not speak and unlike many in his situation, a court expert told CNN he showed none of the nervousness or fear typically displayed by someone facing such serious charges.
“I think you’re looking at a vey tired individual combined with what his normal personality might be,” said CNN legal contributor Paul Callan, who added that it did not appear, and was not likely, that Holmes was on anti-psychotic medication or other psychiatric drugs in court.
The hearing, known as an advisement, is not the typical arraignment, but a type of placeholder at which Sylvester ruled that there is probable cause to hold Holmes without bond on a first degree murder charge until more charges are filed next week. A public defender spoke on behalf of Holmes and the judge issued a protective order that banned Holmes from having any contact with any of the victims or witnesses in the case. The defense asked for access to the movie theater crime scene and Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment as part of their investigation.
Usually formal charges are filed within 72 hours, though both sides agreed to give some extra time for further investigation, which will push the charging back to Monday (July 30), where the suspect’s lawyers can enter a plea and prosecutors are expected to issue a long list of additional charges.
An expert told CNN that it is likely that another month will pass before a preliminary hearing, at which time the prosecutor will give the first look at their case against Holmes and prove probable cause to hold him over for trial. He is likely to face more than 70 charges in the case and is being held in solitary confinement as he awaits his next court date.
CNN reported that Holmes is on suicide watch in protective custody and that he has reportedly spit at some police officers since his jailing and has been threatened by other inmates, some of whom told the network that the former PhD student acted very erratically while behind bars. A few of the victims’ families were in court and nearby watching via closed-circuit TV and were reportedly staring intently at the suspect, but Holmes did not appear to make any eye contact with them.
Though an insanity plea is possible, if he is judged fit to stand trial Holmes could face the death penalty on first degree murder charges. The televised hearing took only a few minutes and Holmes said nothing as he sat beside his court-appointed public defender, Tamara Brady.
Afterwards, Arapahoe County, Colorado, District Attorney Carol Chambers told reporters that her office will ask that Holmes continue to be held without bond during the preliminary hearing process and that her team would reach out to the victims in the case for input on whether Holmes should face the death penalty.
Chambers also noted that Holmes could face 24 first degree murder charges in all due to a legal definition of the crime that allows for separate charges deemed “after deliberation” and “extreme indifference to human life.” At this time, Chambers said she had no idea if the defense was prepping an insanity plea, but noted that it could take up to a year or more for the case to wind its way to trial. A decision on whether to pursue the death penalty will likely come within 60 days of Holmes’ formal arraignment.
“I would say that there’s no such thing as a slam-dunk case,” Chambers responded to a press inquiry about her confidence in the prosecution’s case given the “enormous” amount of evidence left behind by Holmes at the theater and in his apartment. She described the investigation into the incident as “very active,” involving subpoenas, warrants and following up on media leads.
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