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Prosecution To Begin Calling Witnesses In Colorado Shooting Trial

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In a Colorado courtroom, a lawyer defended what can easily be seen as indefensible. He's trying to save the life of James Holmes. He's arguing his client was insane when he walked into a theater showing a Batman movie and killed a dozen people. The trial will turn on what the jury thinks about Holmes' state of mind. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Marcus watched the opening arguments.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: The court gallery was split evenly between journalists from all over the world and victims and victims' families. Their side was stocked with tissue boxes, and they would need them over the next four hours of opening statements. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler started with a picture of the back door to the theater stained with blood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE BRAUCHLER: Through this door is horror.

MARKUS: Then he played a 911 call, sounds of gunfire and screaming in the background.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED OPERATOR: Hello, 911. What is your emergency?

MARKUS: Brauchler is pursuing the death penalty against Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Brauchler told the jury that before the shooting, the gunman failed key exams in a neuroscience doctoral program and that he had been rejected by a woman he dated briefly. And so...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRAUCHLER: He tried to murder a theater full of people to make himself feel better and because he thought it would increase his self-worth.

MARKUS: For the first time, prosecutors discussed the contents of Holmes's infamous notebook. It included ravings, drawings and plans on the best way to commit mass murder. It showed that Holmes scoped out the theater for that night. Brauchler says the shooter had spent months purchasing weapons, bomb-making materials and lots of body armor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRAUCHLER: By the time he gets into that theater on July the 20, there is not a millimeter of flesh that isn't covered by some protective armor or piece of clothing.

MARKUS: Brauchler mocked what he says were the gunman's attempts to seem crazy after the fact, noting that two state doctors ruled him legally sane. He ended his presentation by showing large photos of the murdered theatergoers. After a brief recess, Holmes's public defender, Daniel King, acknowledged that the jury had just experienced some of the awfulness of that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL KING: And I saw the impact on your faces.

MARKUS: King admitted that his client was behind the shooting, but he added that Holmes wasn't driven by losing a once promising academic career. Instead, it was schizophrenia that was ruining his life, a mental illness passed down through his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: And in Mr. Holmes's case, he was both blessed and cursed by his genetics because he's a very smart person, but he was also loaded for mental illness.

MARKUS: King says his psychological experts will argue that Holmes is legally insane. King read nonsensical excerpts from Holmes's notebook. He showed pictures of it to the jury, pages filled with scribbles of the word why followed by a question mark written over and over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: One of the court-appointed psychiatrists said that when he first saw the notebook, he described it as being full of a whole lot of crazy.

MARKUS: After the lengthy opening statements, Marcus Weaver, whose friend Rebecca Wingo was killed in the theater, said the lawyer's words were tough to sit through.

MARCUS WEAVER: I spent a lot of time crying today just thinking about Rebecca and thinking about what happened that night - the flash of his gun, the noise, the sound, the panic.

MARKUS: The prosecution begins calling witnesses this morning, and the trial is expected to wrap up in September. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.