Aurora theater shooting trial: DAY 1 — Victims, watchers and press headed into courtroom

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AURORA |Defense and prosecutors in the Aurora theater shooting trial took opposing views of what sounds to be exhaustive psychiatric examinations of James Holmes, with both sides saying evidence and testimony yet to come will support their contrary opinions.

It was the first public word on what different psychiatrists determined after examining the former neuroscience student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 at a midnight “Batman” premiere.

The opening statement by District Attorney George Brauchler marked the start of a long-awaited, lengthy and emotionally wrenching trial to determine if he’ll be executed, spend his life in prison, or be committed to an institution as criminally insane.

Several victims wept during Brauchler’s opening. Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed, glared at Holmes. One juror wept.

Brauchler made the following allegations in his opening remarks:

• Brauchler said four things prevented the attack from being even more horrific: An apartment neighbor who didn’t open a booby-trapped door, Holmes’ assault rifle jammed; he messed up trying to throw the second of two gas canisters he used in the attack; and “heroes” came quickly and kept people from dying.

• Holmes cased many theaters, looking for perfect theater to attack. 

• Holmes used separate bank account to hide purchases of weapons, body armor from family.

• Holmes first considered attacking airport before settling on theater.

Holmes discussed killing people with ex-girlfriend in April 2012

• Holmes says he has “obsession to kill” since childhood.

• Holmes assigned value on other people’s lives and how much they were worth to kill.

Defense attorney Dan King said the evidence will show unequivocally that Holmes was so mentally ill, he had no concept of reality when he attacked patrons in the theater.

King made the following assertions during opening remarks:

• “When (Holmes) stepped into the theater on July 20, 2012, he was insane.”

• “This is not a conscious choice of a rational mind.” King said Holmes is schizophrenic.

• “All I’m going to ask is that you accept reality … the reality is mental illness.”

• King says during defense opening that Schizophrenia is a disease of the mind like cancer is a disease of the body.

• King says 20 doctors agree that Holmes has mental illness, and that Holmes is not faking.

• Defenders say that experts do not agree Holmes’ mental state. King says its differing opinions from experts.

• King says Holmes regrets what happened in the theater shooting

• King says Holmes still believes delusional thoughts that led him to kill on July 20

His clown-like red hair grew out long ago, and the bushy beard he wore awaiting trial was gone, too. Discreetly, so that others can’t see, Holmes was being restrained: Under his blue dress shirt was a harness, cabled through the leg of his khaki pants to the courtroom floor.

Nearly three years after a deadly rampage inside a crowded movie theater, Holmes now stands trial for one of the deadliest shootings in Colorado’s history beginning today. Prosecutors will outline the massive case, which includes more than 400 charges against Holmes, and detail Holmes’ mental state when he killed 12 people and injured 70 more on July 20, 2012.

 

 

5:05 p.m. 

An attorney for the man who opened fire in a crowded Aurora movie theater says James Holmes experienced a break with reality months before the shooting, soon after he turned 24.

Defense lawyer Katherine Spengler says Holmes’ psychotic break in early 2012 could have been caused by problems with his girlfriend and stress from the social interaction required of his graduate school classes.

But Spengler says it also could have happened because that was the time, determined by Holmes’ genes, for his disease to worsen. Holmes’ attorneys say he has schizophrenia.

Holmes was enrolled in the selective Ph.D. neuroscience program at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

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4:45 p.m. 

An attorney for the Aurora theater shooter has cited a history of mental illness on both sides of James Holmes’ family, including an aunt with schizophrenic affective disorder.

Daniel King said during opening statements Monday that Holmes was a normal child through elementary school but began to have mental health problems in middle school. He says Holmes attempted suicide at age 11.

King adds his client had “intrusive thoughts” in high school, and they continue to this day.

Holmes’ attorney Katherine Spengler says Holmes’ mental illness “revved up” in his 20s. She says he wanted to study neuroscience to find a fix for what was wrong with his brain.

The 27-year-old Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the 2012 mass shooting.

 

3:25 p.m.

Multiple people sobbed during opening statements in the Colorado theater shooting trial.

A juror wiped tears from her face as District Attorney George Brauchler showed photographs of the victims’ bodies, as well a photograph of 6-year-old Veronica Moser before the shooting.

Brauchler said he would show a photo of Moser’s body later in the trial, but didn’t show it during opening statements. He said they should only have to look at that photo once.

Holmes watched the screen with the photographs but showed no visible reaction.

There was a box of tissues at the feet of Holmes’ parents but they didn’t use them during the opening statements. Defense attorneys were beginning their opening statement.

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3 p.m. 

The prosecutor in the Colorado theater shooting trial showed jurors photographs of the victims before wrapping up his opening statement.

District Attorney George Brauchler described how one moviegoer draped himself over his friend, trying to protect him, and how another was nearly eviscerated by bullets.

Brauchler says the gunman, James Holmes, wore headphones and listened to techno music so as not to hear the reaction in the theater.

In the courtroom Monday, Holmes swiveled in chair ever so slightly as the prosecutor chronicled the individual killings.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the 2012 attack.

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2:45 p.m.

District Attorney George Brauchler showed jurors photographs of the elaborate booby trap that Colorado theater shooter James Holmes set up in his apartment.

He says Holmes used “detonation redundancy” to try to ensure its success and tactics to cause as much harm as possible.

Gasoline was put in green containers so it looked like a clear liquid.

Brauchler says Holmes planned to use magnesium to start fires that would spew out lethal hydrogen gas and be made worse by water sprayed on them.

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2:40 p.m. 

A prosecutor says James Holmes’ decision to dye his bright hair red before opening fire in a Colorado movie theater had nothing to do with wanting to look like the Joker from Batman.

District Attorney George Brauchler says Holmes told an expert who examined him that he changed his hair color and wore contacts that made his pupils look black so he would stand out and be remembered.

“I thought it would look better than green or blue,” Holmes said, according to the prosecutor.

Also during his opening statements, Brauchler showed jurors an FBI model of the theater. The roughly 4-foot by 6-foot model was on a table in the courtroom and had been covered with a black cloth.

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2:15 p.m.

A prosecutor says James Holmes considered other locations and methods for his attack, including biological warfare, before deciding on a mass shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater.

District Attorney George Brauchler says Holmes ruled out a biological assault because it would require too much knowledge.

He also considered various locations, including airports and other theaters. He concluded an airport would have too much security.

Brauchler says Holmes picked Century 16 in Aurora in part because it had doors he could lock to increase casualties. He also considered factors such as police response times.

Brauchler noted before the shooting, Holmes was reluctant to give details about his thoughts to therapists he worked with. But Holmes freely talked about his desire to kill people with his ex-girlfriend, whom he continued to spend time with after their breakup.

The prosecutor said the ex-girlfriend thought Holmes was being hypothetical, and the two severed ties soon afterward.

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2 p.m. 

The prosecutor in the Colorado movie theater shooting trial says the experts who examined the gunman couldn’t agree on what mental disorder he has.

District Attorney George Brauchler also says James Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience, gave them conflicting answers about his motives.

Brauchler noted during opening arguments that Holmes told one state expert he decided to carry out the shooting in a movie theater because of the possibility of mass casualties. But Brauchler says Holmes told a defense expert he chose the setting because he liked the movies.

When asked about the discrepancy, Holmes allegedly responded “Things change with time” and offered no other explanation.

Openings statements started Monday with prosecutors laying out their case. Each side is allowed two hours.

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1:50 p.m.

The prosecutor in the Colorado movie theater shooting trial says for four months after his arrest, James Holmes was on no medication and seemed sane.

District Attorney George Brauchler told jurors during opening statements Monday that Holmes complained about the jail food and asked for specific books and contact-lens cleaning fluid.

“He is, in essence, like every other inmate,” Brauchler said.

But the prosecutor says as the holidays neared, Holmes stopped eating and drinking, sending himself into a delirium.

Brauchler says jurors will see a video of Holmes climbing onto the bed in his cell around that time and “sort of falling off,” and they’ll have to decide what it means.

He says they’ll also see a notebook Holmes kept that was intended to be given to his family after the shooting. It includes pages Holmes wrote on his longstanding hatred of mankind, as well as his plans for the massacre.

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1:30 p.m.

The prosecutor in the Colorado movie theater shooting trial has played a video recording of one of James Holmes’ psychiatric evaluations in which Holmes says he “only counts fatalities” in the attack and those wounded were “collateral damage.”

District Attorney George Brauchler says Holmes felt differently about the people he killed and those he injured in the 2012 shooting in suburban Denver.

“The dead can’t be repaired or come back to life and be normal again,” Holmes said.

The wounded, meanwhile, are “collateral damage,” he said.

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1:25 p.m. 

The prosecutor in the Colorado movie theater shooting trial says two mental health evaluations found that James Holmes sane at the time of the attack.

It is the first word on the results of the evaluations from different psychiatrists.

“Both of them said the same thing: that that guy was sane when he tried to murder all those people in the theater back in July of 2012,” District Attorney George Brauchler said.

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1:15 p.m. 

Opening statements have started in the long-awaited death penalty trial of Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes.

The prosecutor showed a picture of the door to the theater. “Through this door are bullets, blood, brains and bodies,” he said. He played a 911 call.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. says each side has two hours for opening statements. The defense can make opening statement now or later.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 when he opened fire at a midnight showing of a Batman movie in suburban Denver. The July 20, 2012, mass shooting was one of America’s deadliest.

 

11:45 a.m.

Security vans are now blocking both ends of roundabout entrances of the Arapahoe County courthouse. There are still police gunman on top of the building. Just a short time earlier, Bryan Beard, a friend of Aurora theater shooting victim Alex Sullivan just entered the courtroom. He declined to comment and was hugging a girl closely as he entered the courtroom building.

Some victims’ family members and survivors of the Aurora theater shooting have arrived at court in advance of opening statements in James Holmes’ trial.

They held hands as they took the elevator up to the courtroom.

The group included Ian Sullivan, whose 6-year-old daughter, Veronica, was the youngest victim of the 2012 massacre, and Caleb Medley, who was shot in the head while on a date night at the Batman screening with his pregnant wife.

Medley’s wife gave birth to their baby in the same hospital where Medley was treated. The boy is his first child.

 

10:15 a.m.

Victims and survivors who plan to attend opening statements in the Aurora theater shooting trial will be greeted with stern warnings about their conduct in the courtroom.

On the prosecution side of the gallery, where dozens of victims and relatives of survivors are expected to sit this afternoon, dozens of boxes of tissues are scattered on the chairs.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said he plans to address jurors for about 30 minutes starting around noon, then the prosecution and defense will deliver their opening arguments. Samour gave each side two hours for their arguments.

For the defense, Daniel King and Katherine Spengler will deliver the openings. District Attorney George Brauchler will deliver the openings for the prosecution but another prosecutor may speak as well.

9:10 a.m.

A hearing to take care of last-minute motions is underway in the death penalty trial of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes in suburban Denver.

Holmes is dressed in a blue shirt, khaki pants and no tie. At the start of a live video feed from the courtroom, he is seen standing behind the defense table with his hands in his pocket.

As in previous hearings, Holmes is tethered to the courtroom floor with a harness under his clothes, hidden from the jury’s view.

To the right of the judge’s bench is a table holding a roughly 4-foot by 6-foot object draped with a black cloth.

Among the evidence expected to be presented during the trial is an FBI model of the theater and photographs of the scene.

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8:25 a.m. 

The parents of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes have been seen waiting in line to get into the suburban Denver courthouse where Holmes’ long-awaited death penalty trial is getting underway.

Robert and Arlene Holmes of Rancho Penasquitos, California, have publicly pleaded for their son’s life to be spared through a plea bargain. They called him a “human being gripped by a severe mental illness.”

Shortly before their arrival, some TV reporters followed Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, the parents of shooting victim Jessica Ghawi, to the door of the Centennial courthouse, in violation of the strict ground rules for media coverage.

A woman in a suit came up and scolded them.

Opening statements in the 2012 shooting case are scheduled to begin Monday afternoon.

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7:50 a.m. 

A steady stream of people walked into the courthouse on a gray and drizzly morning on the opening day of the trial of James Holmes in the 2012 Colorado theater shooting.

They were dressed in suits and dresses, and jeans and sweatshirts. About 10 television satellite trucks were parked outside.

There were no deputies stationed at the roof as seen at previous hearings in the case at the courthouse in Centennial, south of Denver.

Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more a packed Aurora theater, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers will argue he was too addled by mental illness to tell right from wrong.

 

Opening arguments are slated for this afternoon after a trial conference this morning. The Aurora Sentinel will be filing online and Twitter updates through out the day.

Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July 20, 2012, attack on a Aurora movie theater. His defense attorneys don’t dispute that he pulled the trigger but say he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the theater and opened fire while dressed from head to toe in combat gear.

A union plumber, a school teacher and a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre were among the 19 women and five men chosen to serve as jurors in the death penalty trial of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes.

The 12 jurors and 12 alternates were chosen after remaining candidates were questioned as a large group last week.

Prosecutors insist Holmes was sane and will ask jurors to convict him and sentence him to death.

If the jury finds Holmes was legally insane at the time of the attack, he would be committed indefinitely to the state psychiatric hospital. If the jury convicts Holmes, the only other option other than a death sentence is life in prison.

Jury selection began Jan. 20.

Many potential jurors were excused when they said they already had an opinion on Holmes’ guilt or were morally opposed to the death penalty.

Still others were dismissed because of personal connections to the shooting, including people who had friends or family in the packed theater that night, or who knew some of the hundreds of first responders who rushed to the scene.

In group questioning, attorneys had the chance to dismiss potential jurors without giving cause.

THE BREAKDOWN

The 12 jurors and 12 alternates were chosen after a selection process that began Jan. 20.

There are 19 women and five men, all of whom will sit through the entire trial. Neither the group of 24 nor the public will know who is a primary juror and who is an alternate until the end of the trial.

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