James Holmes' actions before and during theater shooting traced in prosecution's case
Will insanity factor into Holmes' defense?
Last Updated: 136 days ago
CENTENNIAL, Colo. - During two-and-a-half days of testimony and evidence, prosecutors highlighted months of James Holmes' actions associated with the alleged planning of the mass shooting inside the Aurora Century 16. Several pieces of evidence also seem to imply a plan to get away after the shooting.
The preliminary hearing, where the prosecution's goal is to convince the judge to send each of the 166 charges in the case to trial, ended Wednesday. During the so-called mini-trial, prosecutors called 14 witnesses and entered 86 items into evidence.
"There is evidence, certainly, of his intent, willingness and of his planning," said prosecutor Karen Pearson in her summary statement.
In many of this country's infamous mass shootings, the suspects have taken their own lives. Holmes, accused of killing 12 and injuring 70 on July 20, is one of the rare surviving suspects.
Unlike many other accused mass shooters, testimony at this hearing showed Holmes took several steps to protect his own life.
ATF Supervisory Special Agent Steven Beggs testified Tuesday that Holmes bought ballistic armor to cover himself head-to-toe in three separate purchases during June and July.
Wednesday, Sgt. Matthew Fyles testified about a variety of other items found in and around Holmes' car behind Theater 9 after the shooting. They included a gas mask he was allegedly wearing when confronted by the officers who handcuffed him and a second can of "Clear Out" brand tear gas grenades that Beggs previously testified Holmes had bought on May 10.
That was the first of 16 purchases Holmes made that were catalogued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Other items in the car included a holstered Glock .40 caliber handgun found in the map compartment of the passenger door. Also, six "Road Stars" were found on a seat around a pair of sunglasses.
Fyles said "Road Stars" are pyramid-shaped spikes used to stop or incapacitate cavalry or infantry. He added that they always land with a spike pointing upward, no matter how they're thrown.
The website from which Beggs said Holmes bought the spikes on June 6, describes them as, "devices designed for use in securing private property and law enforcement applications in which an immediate vehicle-disabling roadblock is required."
Beggs testified Holmes had ordered the Road Stars online on June 6. No testimony mentioned any of the spikes being found inside Theater 9, suggesting Holmes may have planned to use them at a later point.
If booby-traps set in Holmes' apartment at 1690 Paris Street had been set off, FBI Bomb Technician Garrett Gumbinner testified that fires and explosions would have resulted from the combinations of napalm, gasoline, gun powder and bullets. Because loud music was timed to begin 25 minutes after Holmes left the building, it could have drawn significant attention from neighbors, which would lead police to the area.
Gumbinner testified that Holmes told him the goal was to get officers to set off the booby traps and draw most of the first responders in Aurora to Pyramid Street.
Testimony indicated those traps weren't found until after Holmes exited the theater, was confronted by officers beside his car and told them about the improvised explosives.
The emergency exit door to Theater 9 was found propped open by a plastic clip, according to testimony from Fyles. The clip used to hold picnic cloths onto tables was wrapped in turquoise duct tape, thickening its profile.
Holmes' white car was parked "as close as you can park" to that emergency exit, he said a moment later.
Surviving victim Corbin Dates sat in the second row of Theater 9, according to an interview recounted in Fyles' testimony. Dates saw a person with hair he described as "red" go to that emergency door after the previews began. Dates said a person came back in through that door and started shooting about 20 minutes later.
A 911 tape played on the second day of the preliminary hearing lasted just 27 seconds but included the sound of at least 30 gunshots. Detective Randy Hansen testified the call was made at 12:38 a.m. and was the very first call from inside Theater 9 during the premiere showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
The rapid-fire booms could be heard in the background of Kevin Quinonez's call.
"Gunshots…" Quinonez can be heard saying.
The dispatcher pleads with Quinonez to give the theater address, but the sound of gunshots and chaos drowns him out.
"Say it loud" the dispatcher pleads before the call goes dead.
Previously, Hansen's testimony established the movie began playing at 12:20 a.m., meaning the shooting started no more than 18 minutes into the film.
Testimony about the shell casings found inside the theater from Aurora Detective Craig Appel indicated that the majority of the 76 empty shell casings were found near the theater's screen. About 45 percent of the casings, however, were found along a hallway to the right of the seats that would lead back to the lobby.
Appel said correlating the location of shell casings to the path of the shooter was not foolproof, but seemed to tell a story.
"It's not an exact science, but I think you get a general understanding of where someone may have been standing," he said.
The shooter's rifle jammed, Appel told the court. Investigators knew about the malfunction based on the markings on unfired rounds found in the theater.
"Had it not [jammed], he probably would have shot more people in that theater," prosecuting attorney Karen Pearson said during her final statement Wednesday.
The tactical pump-action shotgun was found inside Theater 9 near the emergency exit and the MP15 rifle was found outside that same door. Still, the testimony indicated the shooter would have been armed with a Glock handgun equipped with a green laser sight that witnesses reported having seen inside the theater. Holmes purchased several high-capacity magazines for that kind of handgun, but Appel testified that only five empty casings from that weapon were found in the theater.
The .40 caliber casings were mostly found in the hallway, he told the court.
The photographs of the handgun and other equipment found in or around the car were entered into evidence by the prosecution during the preliminary hearing. One photograph, dubbed exhibit 68, showed a previously unmentioned stun gun.
Other detailed photographs showed the serial numbers on the MP15 rifle, tactical shotgun and two handguns. Each serial number matched the number identified in Beggs' testimony about Holmes' acquiring the firearms.
Other testimony, from Aurora Detective Tom Welton, said Holmes had created two online dating profiles that bore the headline, "Will you visit me in prison?"
In response to an objection from the defense, the prosecution explained that information was introduced to demonstrate Holmes had planned to commit a crime days before the massacre.
Holmes was marched in and out of the courtroom for each of the hearing's 11 separate sessions. The shackled man was dressed in an oversized red jumpsuit and waddled back in to the room a moment before the judge arrived for each session.
Holmes seemed to ignore his own attorneys, even when they were conferring right next to him. In fact, his gaze rarely shifted.
Several of the officers who interacted with Holmes, including Officer Jason Oviatt who handcuffed him outside the theater on July 20, were asked to identify Holmes in the courtroom. All of them mentioned he now had a full beard and shorter hair that was no longer dyed orange.
The prosecution submitted into evidence several items that showed Holmes with that infamous hair color. Surveillance videos from the theater, images on two dating websites and photos downloaded from Holmes' own iPhone all included the hair.
The most chilling of the cell phone portraits was taken just hours before the shooting, at 6:22 p.m. Fyles explained that Exhibit 82 showed Holmes wearing a black skull cap with orange curls peeking out around his ears. He's sticking his tongue out and is wearing black contacts on his eyes.
Another photo, taken about an hour earlier, showed many items in the arsenal later found in the theater, the white car or on Holmes' person. It included body armor, the firearms and magazines full of ammunition.
The defense tried to object to the photos of Holmes and his apartment downloaded from the phone, but was overruled. They didn't object to the prosecution's introduction of four other photos from the phone that Fyles identified as the interior and exterior of the Century 16 theater taken between June 29 and July 11.
The defense never called a witness during the hearing, but questions asked on cross examination did suggest their plans to pursue some variety of an insanity defense.
During testimony about non-firearm equipment Holmes purchased prior to the shooting, defense attorney Tamara Brady asked this question:
"Is there any process in Colorado to screen if a severely mentally ill person had ordered these items?"
The ATF agent on the stand replied there was no such system.
While explaining to the judge that the defense had decided not to present any testimony in the preliminary hearing, attorney Daniel King said his team was considering entering evidence regarding Holmes' mental state. Documents about prosecution motion 35 also indicated the district attorney had asked to block testimony about his mental state from the hearing.
"The issue here is probable cause. This is neither the venue nor time for us to put on a show or present a truncated defense," King said Wednesday.
Dan Recht, an attorney who is following the details of the case and defended murder suspects on trial, said there is precedent for a person with mental illness to engage in the detailed planning that prosecutors laid out.
"Most every lay person believes that the more planning involved, the less likely it is that someone's insane, that isn't necessarily true. You can be insane and still plan, but it is less likely," Recht said.
"There is evidence, certainly, of his intent, willingness and of his planning," said prosecutor Karen Pearson.
Judge William Sylvester will base his decision to send Holmes to trial on whether he believes there is probable cause for each count. A decision on what role Holmes' mental state played in the crime will have to wait for trial.
Any evidence or testimony that could possibly indicate what Holmes' had planned to do after the shooting may not have any direct bearing on the 166 charges he faces. If such information exists, however, it would not likely surface before Holmes goes to a full jury trial.
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