The arraignment of James Holmes, who faces trial on first-degree murder charges for the July shooting rampage in a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead, was delayed until March 12.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester today postponed the arraignment at the request of Holmes’s lawyers. Tamara Brady, one of the attorneys, told the judge today that the defense needs more time to determine the appropriate plea.
Sylvester ruled yesterday that the government established probable cause that Holmes committed the crimes he’s accused of. Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver, is charged with 166 counts, including murder and attempted murder. He might face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors provided sufficient evidence that Holmes’s mental state was one of “universal malice” and that he demonstrated an “extreme indifference to the value of human life inside the Century 16 Theater” in Aurora, Sylvester said, ordering Holmes held without bail.
At a three-day preliminary hearing that started Jan. 7, prosecutors presented eyewitnesses and experts in weapons and explosives to describe the July 20 attack and how Holmes allegedly prepared for it.
They also played calls to 911 and showed pictures Holmes allegedly took of himself before the shootings during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The defense didn’t call any witnesses. Holmes’s lawyers repeatedly raised the issue of mental illness.
Before yesterday’s ruling, lawyers for Holmes told the judge in a filing in state court in Centennial that they weren’t prepared to enter a plea at the arraignment scheduled for today.
Defense lawyers anticipated Sylvester’s ruling sending the case to trial, and indicated they weren’t prepared to enter a plea to put the judge and news media on notice, said Karen Steinhauser, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice.
Based on questions Holmes’s lawyers raised during the preliminary hearing about his mental state, they probably will eventually enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, said Steinhauser, who isn’t involved in the case. She said the defense team may argue that Holmes isn’t competent to stand trial or able to assist his lawyers.
“If there’s an issue of competency, everything stops until an examination and a finding can be made about whether he’s able,” Steinhauser said.
If Holmes is found incompetent, he will be held in custody at a state hospital until he’s restored to a state in which he can understand the legal proceedings, she said.
Before Holmes left the courtroom today, Steve Hernandez, whose daughter, Rebecca Wingo, died in the mass shooting, shouted, “Rot in hell, Holmes!” Holmes didn’t appear to react to the outburst.
The comment led to a brief second hearing on court behavior. Sylvester told Hernandez that while he understood what drove him to speak up, he wanted him to refrain from commenting again.
“I can only begin to understand the emotions,” Sylvester said. The judge asked Hernandez if he could “count on him,” to behave in the future? Hernandez promised no further outbursts.
Media companies, including the Denver Post newspaper and KUSA television, a Gannett Co. unit, asked Sylvester to permit video and audio recording and still photographs in the courtroom. Holmes’s lawyers objected, arguing the coverage threatens the defendant’s constitutional due process and fair trial rights.
The judge rejected the request for today’s hearing because under state law such coverage isn’t permitted. The media companies have renewed their request for expanded coverage at the March arraignment, according to court filings.
The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).