Accused Aurora Theater Shooter Ordered to Face Trial

James Holmes, accused of the July shooting rampage in a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead, must stand trial on all 166 counts against him, including first-degree murder and attempted murder charges, a judge said.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester said in a ruling yesterday that prosecutors established probable cause that Holmes committed the alleged crimes, and ordered him held without bail.

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, Colorado, Sylvester said.

Before yesterday’s ruling, lawyers for Holmes told the judge they weren’t prepared to enter a plea at a hearing scheduled for today.

“The defense has notified the district attorney that it is not prepared to proceed to arraignment in this case by Friday, and therefore request that the hearing on Friday serve only as a status hearing and not arraignment,” according to a filing in Colorado state court in Centennial.

Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

Preliminary Hearing

The preliminary hearing began Jan. 7, with prosecutors presenting 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 the judge pictures Holmes allegedly took of himself before the shooting spree during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” While the defense didn’t call any witnesses, Holmes’s lawyers repeatedly raised the issue of mental illness.

Defense lawyers anticipated Sylvester’s ruling, and indicated they weren’t prepared to enter a plea to put the judge and 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, Steinhauser said. She also said the defense team may be concerned that Holmes isn’t competent to stand trial or able to assist his lawyers.

Competency Examination

“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.

Media companies, including the Denver Post newspaper and KUSA, a television channel and unit of Gannett Co. Inc., asked Sylvester to permit video and audio recording and still photographs in the courtroom. Holmes’s lawyers objected to the request, arguing the coverage threatens the defendant’s constitutional due process and fair trial rights.

The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).