Friday, May 25, 2018

Colorado shooting rampage suspect makes first court appearance

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — His hair dyed a shocking comic-book shade of orange-red, James Holmes appeared in court for the first time, but didn't seem to be there at all.

The world's first look at the man accused of killing 12 moviegoers and injuring 58 others in a shooting rampage at a packed midnight screening of the new Batman film was that of a sleepy, seemingly inattentive suspect.

Holmes shuffled into court Monday in a maroon jailhouse jumpsuit with his hands cuffed. Unshaven and appearing dazed, Holmes sat virtually motionless, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case. At one point, Holmes simply closed his eyes.

He never said a word.

Prosecutors said they didn't know if he was being medicated. His demeanor, however, angered victims' relatives. Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the attack, watched Holmes intently throughout the roughly 12-minute hearing, sizing up the 24-year-old former doctoral student.

"I saw the coward in court today, and Alex could have wiped the floor with him without breaking a sweat," Teves said. His son, a physical therapist, dove to protect his girlfriend during The Dark Knight Rises shooting at a multiplex in nearby Aurora in the Denver suburbs.

The court appearance gave millions the chance to scrutinize Holmes' every movement, every flutter of his heavy eyelids and form their opinions.

"It struck me that this is a person who's been through an emotional maelstrom and therefore might be totally wiped out emotionally," said Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Gardere said there could be "a psychotic process going on and we see that being acted out there. Or there might be some sort of malingering going on. In other words, trying to make himself look worse than he actually is. Or maybe a combination of all of those things."

The hearing was the first confirmation that Holmes' hair was colored. On Friday, there were reports of his hair being red and that he told arresting officers that he was the Joker, Batman's nemesis in the fictional Gotham City.

Authorities have declined to confirm if Holmes told officers that he was Batman's enemy.

Holmes, whom police say donned body armor and was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly afterward. His home was booby-trapped with a trip wire, explosives and unknown liquids that took a day to disarm.

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, who is being held in isolation, is refusing to cooperate, authorities said. They said it could take months to identify a motive.

On Monday, security was tight as uniformed sheriff's deputies were stationed outside, including on the roofs of both court buildings.

Holmes' entrance into the courtroom was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him. Two women held hands tightly, one shook her head. One woman's eyes welled up with tears.

Christina "Crispy" Blache, who was shot in both legs during the rampage, watched clips of Holmes' court appearance afterward with her father, Robert Blache. Her father said Holmes looked insane, while the restaurant manager said she believed Holmes had no idea what he did.

"He seemed kind of out of it, just sitting there. I don't really know what to think as far as he goes because he didn't seem remorseful or anything," she said.

Prosecutor Carol Chambers said her office is considering pursuing the death penalty, but that a decision will be made in consultation with the victims' families.

Chambers' office is responsible for the convictions of two of the three people on Colorado's death row.

Colorado uses the death penalty relatively sparingly. There has only been one execution since it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. The state legislature fell one vote short of abolishing the death penalty in 2009.

At a news conference in San Diego, where Holmes' family lives, their lawyer, Lisa Damiani, refused to answer questions about him and his relationship to the family. She said later: "Everyone's concerned" about the possibility of the death penalty.

When asked if they stood by Holmes, Damiani said, "Yes they do. He's their son."

Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. He 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.

Weeks before, Holmes quit a 35-student Ph.D. program in neuroscience for reasons that aren't clear. He had earlier taken an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year, but University of Colorado Denver officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

At a news conference, university officials refused to answer questions about Holmes. University chancellor Donald Elliman said, "To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done."

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