James Holmes formally charged in Aurora, Colo. theater shooting

12:48 PM, Jul 30, 2012   |    comments
James Holmes
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CENTENNIAL, CO - Prosecutors on Monday formally charged graduate school dropout James Holmes with multiple counts of first-degree murder for the July 20 movie-theater massacre that killed 12 and wounded 58 others.

The first-degree murder charges underscore District Attorney Carol Chambers' belief that Holmes, 24, acted with premeditation by purchasing a shotgun, semi-automatic assault rifle, two semi-automatic guns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and other gear in the weeks leading up a methodical assault at the theater in Aurora.

Holmes faces 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder in connection with the theater shootings.

He was also charged with possession of an explosive device, but it's unclear if that was tied to the smoke cannister he ignited to confuse theatergoers or the improvised explosive devices later found in Holmes' booby-trapped apartment.

Holmes appeared more alert than his initial dazed appearance last week, conferring occasionally with his public defenders, swiveling in his chair and looking at court staff. But he said only one word - "yes" - when he was asked by Judge William Sylvester if he waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 35 days. He did not enter a plea.

Holmes has been held without bond and in isolation at the county's detention center since police arrested him outside the theater.

Holmes' defense team said in a court filing Friday that he was a patient of Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist and medical director at the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, where Holmes was a doctoral candidate in the university's neuroscience program before dropping out June 10. They did not say what Holmes was being treated for or if he is on any medications.

Holmes' attorneys are also seeking a court order requiring prosecutors to turn over the contents of a package Holmes allegedly sent to Fenton prior to the shootings. The package was found July 23 in a campus mail room. The defense contends correspondence between Holmes and Fenton is privileged and not admissible as evidence.

Fenton's online resume listed schizophrenia as one of her research interests and says that she sees graduate students for medication and psychotherapy.

Legal experts expect Holmes's attorneys to file an insanity defense. "I don't think it's too hard to predict the path of this proceeding," said former state chief deputy district attorney Craig Silverman. "This is not a whodunit. ... The only possible defense is insanity."

University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin said there is "pronounced" evidence that the attack was premeditated, which would seem to make an insanity defense difficult. "The things that we don't know are what this case is going to hinge on, and that's his mental state," he said.

If Holmes's attorneys cannot convince the court that he is mentally incompetent, and he is convicted, they can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill. Prosecutors say they haven't decided if they will seek the death penalty in the case, which could take more than a year before it reaches trial stage.

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. However, 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."

One of the victims critically wounded in the Cineplex 16 shootings, Ashley Moser, suffered a miscarriage over the weekend. Moser's daughter, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was the youngest person killed in the attack.

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