and P. Solomon Banda
CENTENNIAL, Colo.: James Holmes appeared just as dazed as he did in his first court hearing after the deadly Colorado movie theater massacre.
Holmes, 24, sat silently in a packed Denver-area courtroom on Monday, as a judge told him about the charges filed against him, including murder and attempted murder, in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
After the charges were read, prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred over whether a notebook that news reports said Holmes sent to his psychiatrist and had descriptions of the attack was privileged information.
It’s an argument that foreshadows one of the case’s most fundamental issues: Does Holmes have a mental illness and, if so, what role did it play in the shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 others injured?
Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said there is “pronounced” evidence that the attack was premeditated, which would seem to make an insanity defense difficult. “But,” he added, “the things that we don’t know are what this case is going to hinge on, and that’s his mental state.”
In all, prosecutors charged Holmes with 142 counts in the shooting rampage at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie.
Holmes faces two first-degree murder charges for each of the 12 people killed and two attempted first-degree murder charges for every one of the 58 injured in the July 20 shooting.
The maximum penalty for a first-degree murder conviction is death. The multiple charges expand the opportunities for prosecutors to obtain convictions.
“It’s a much easier way for the prosecution to obtain a conviction,” said Denver defense attorney Peter Hedeen. “They throw as many [charges] up as they can. If you think you can prove it three different ways, you charge it three different ways.”
Unlike Holmes’ first court appearance July 23, Monday’s hearing was not televised. At the request of the defense, District Chief Judge William Sylvester barred video and still cameras from the courtroom, saying expanded coverage could interfere with Holmes’ right to a fair trial.
A shackled Holmes did not react as the charges were read. At one point, Holmes, his hair still dyed orange-red, leaned over to speak with one of his lawyers and furrowed his brow. When the judge asked him if he was OK with postponing a hearing so his team could have time to prepare, he said softly: “Yeah.”
Some court spectators Monday wore Batman T-shirts. Several people clasped their hands and bowed their heads as if in prayer before the hearing. At least one victim attended, and she was in a wheelchair and had bandages on her leg and arm.
Sylvester set an Aug. 9 hearing on news organizations’ motion seeking to unseal the case docket.
Sylvester has tried to tightly control the flow of information about Holmes, placing a gag order on lawyers and law enforcement, sealing the court file and barring the university from releasing public records relating to Holmes’ year there.