Launching a case that legal analysts expect to be dominated by arguments over the defendant’s sanity, Colorado prosecutors are filing formal charges Monday against James Eagan Holmes, the former neuroscience student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others at an Aurora movie theater, writes The Huff Post.
Holmes, 24, was arrested shortly after prosecutors say he opened fire at a packed midnight movie premiere of “A Dark Knight Rises” on July 20. Criminal charges against Holmes, who has remained jailed since his arrest, are expected to be formally presented at Monday’s hearing.
According to Reuters, Holmes is also accused of wiring his apartment with enough explosives to have leveled the entire building had they been detonated. It took authorities several days to safely dismantle and dispose of the booby traps.
He will probably face a dozen first-degree murder charges, according to a July 26 court filing. Premeditated murder of multiple victims can be punishable by death in Colorado.
Bloomberg writes that the shooting in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, was the deadliest in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999 and the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since November 2009, when 13 people were killed at Fort Hood in Texas.
Authorities seized the package July 23, three days after the shooting, after finding it in the mailroom of the medical campus where Holmes studied.
Some media outlets reported that it contained a notebook with descriptions of an attack, but Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said in court papers that the parcel hadn’t been opened by the time the “inaccurate” news reports appeared.
“Holmes is looking at well over 1,000 years in prison and I doubt he will live that long so this is all about the death penalty,” said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver who is now in private practice.
“If the death penalty is not obtained against Holmes, that would represent the effective end of capital punishment in Colorado,” he said.
Analysts say that means it’s likely there’s only one main point of legal dispute between prosecutors and the defense.
“I don’t think it’s too hard to predict the path of this proceeding,” said Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver. “This is not a whodunit. … The only possible defense is insanity.”
During an initial court appearance on July 23, Holmes looked lethargic and sometimes distracted. His hair dyed orange and dressed in red prison clothing, Holmes didn’t enter a plea or speak. At times he opened his eyes wide and blinked rapidly.
Those actions don’t necessarily point to insanity, Silverman said.
“He may well be faking it,” Silverman said. “Those eye movements in the courtroom are the kind of acting any one of us could do. It was not overwhelming evidence that he’s insane.”
According to Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. But, at the same time, the law warns that “care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives, and kindred evil conditions.”
Holmes, a San Diego native, was a doctoral student of neuroscience at the Anschutz campus before dropping out recently.
Court documents filed on Friday by defense lawyers said the suspect had been under the care of a psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, who is on the faculty of the University of Colorado-Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus.
Fenton could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the University of Colorado medical school declined to comment, citing restrictions under the judge’s gag order in the case.