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Prosecutors Lay Out Case Against James Holmes


In a Colorado courtroom, prosecutors have begun laying out their case against James Holmes. He is the accused gunman in a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater last July. That shooting left 12 people dead and scores injured. Holmes is now charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder, and other offenses.

Yesterday a packed courtroom listened to emotional testimony by police and medical examiners about the scene they found inside the theater. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee is covering the pre-trial hearing and she's with us to talk about it. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Tell us what the scene was that these first responders described when they arrived at the theater.

VERLEE: Well, they described a very chaotic scene - victims running, screaming from the theater. The first testimony yesterday came from Jason Oviatt, a patrol officer who was one of the first on the scene. He described running toward the back door of theater nine with his gun drawn, seeing a man standing by a white car whom he mistook for a police officer at first because he was wearing a gasmask and tactical gear.

And then as he got closer, Oviatt said he realized that the man was not joining in the scene the way everyone else was. He wasn't running towards anything. And that man turned out to be James Holmes. Apparently Oviatt and other officers were able to arrest him with very little incident. Holmes was quite compliant. They didn't get any sense of why he walked away from the attack in the theater.

That's still a question mark after yesterday's testimony. We also heard officers describe going into the theater and it seems like that was quite a horrific scene. One described nearly slipping because there was so much blood on the floor of the theater.

And they said they had to be shout to be heard inside; it was so loud from the screams of victims, from the sound of the movie, and from the sounds of dozens and dozens of cell phones people had apparently left behind when they fled, all ringing with concerned family members and friends calling them.

MONTAGNE: I gather there was evidence suggesting premeditation on the part of James Holmes.

VERLEE: That is something that prosecutors want to prove in this case. Apparently he purchased his movie ticket on July 8, almost two weeks before the attack. They also described in detail the tactical gear that he'd had to order and the numbers of magazines and ammunition clips that he had brought into the theater.

MONTAGNE: Now, the hearing continues today. What is expected?

VERLEE: I think we'll hear more law enforcement officers. That's definitely the backbone of the prosecution. Yesterday they really got through the murder charges. Today I think we're going to hear the attempted murder charges, of which there are more than 100. So we've got law enforcement officers talking about interviewing victims, the kind of injuries victims had, the memories that they recounted of the attack. And I think we're just going to hear a lot of those through the course of the day.

MONTAGNE: This, of course, is a preliminary hearing. James Holmes has not entered a plea yet. What is expected? Because there has been a lot of talk about an insanity defense.

VERLEE: I think that's what everyone watching this case proceed to trial expects him to plead. It's very likely that the District Attorney may pursue a death penalty case, in which case the not guilty by reason of insanity is one way that he can avoid that. You could see the defense potentially laying out some of the groundwork for that in the hearing yesterday.

They questioned Oviatt closely about Holmes' demeanor, that he did appear detached from events, that he did appear detached from events, that he apparently was disheveled and smelled very unwashed, that his pupils were giant and dilated. So even though they haven't entered that plea yet, you can see them starting to try and shape some of that as this preliminary hearing goes on.

MONTAGNE: Megan Verlee is a reporter with Colorado Public Radio. Thanks very much.

VERLEE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.