The world’s first look at the man accused of killing 12 moviegoers and injuring 58 others in a shooting rampage at a packed midnight screening of the new Batman film was that of a sleepy, seemingly inattentive suspect.
Holmes shuffled into court Monday in a maroon jailhouse jumpsuit with his hands cuffed. Unshaven and appearing dazed, Holmes sat virtually motionless, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case. At one point, Holmes simply closed his eyes.
He never said a word.
Prosecutors said they didn’t know if he was being medicated. His demeanor, however, angered victims’ relatives. Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the attack, watched Holmes intently throughout the roughly
12-minute hearing, sizing up the 24-year-old former doctoral student.
“I saw the coward in court today and Alex could have wiped the floor with him without breaking a sweat,” Teves said. His son, a physical therapist, dove to protect his girlfriend during “The Dark Knight Rises” shooting at a multiplex in nearby Aurora in the Denver suburbs.
The court appearance gave millions the chance to scrutinize Holmes’ every movement, every flutter of his heavy eyelids and form their opinions.
“It struck me that this is a person who’s been through an emotional maelstrom and therefore might be totally wiped out emotionally,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Gardere said there could be “a psychotic process going on and we see that being acted out there. Or there might be some sort of malingering going on. In other words, trying to make himself look worse than he actually is. Or maybe a combination of all of those things.”
The hearing was the first confirmation that Holmes’ hair was colored. On Friday, there were reports of his hair being red and that he told arresting officers that he was “The Joker.” Batman’s nemesis in the fictional Gotham has brightly colored hair.
Authorities have declined to confirm if Holmers told officers that he was Batman’s enemy. Investigators found a Batman mask inside his apartment, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Holmes, whom police say donned body armor and was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly afterward. His home was booby-trapped with a trip wire, explosives and unknown liquids that took a day to disarm.
Police have said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday’s shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and at school.
Holmes, who is being held in isolation, is refusing to cooperate, authorities said. They said it could take months to identify a motive.
The shooting was the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.
On Monday, security was tight as uniformed sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside, including on the roofs of both court buildings.
Holmes’ entrance into the courtroom was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him. Two women held hands tightly, one shook her head. One woman’s eyes welled up with tears.
Holmes sat down in a jury box, next to one of his attorneys. When the judge asked him if he understood his rights, his attorneys did all the talking.
Christina “Crispy” Blache, who was shot in both legs during the rampage, watched clips of Holmes’ court appearance afterward with her father, Robert Blache. Her father said Holmes looked insane, while the restaurant manager said she believed Holmes had no idea what he did.
“He seemed kind of out of it, just sitting there. I don’t really know what to think as far as he goes because he didn’t seem remorseful or anything,” she said.
Prosecutor Carol Chambers said her office is considering pursuing the death penalty, but that a decision will be made in consultation with the victims’ families.
David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during the hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped without injury but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition. His daughter was scheduled to deliver her baby on Monday.
“When it’s your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry,” Sanchez said. He said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medley, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had been waiting for a year to watch the movie.
Asked what punishment is appropriate if Holmes is convicted, Sanchez said, “I think death is.”
Chambers’ office is responsible for the convictions of two of the three people on Colorado’s death row.
Chambers also is the only state district attorney to seek the death penalty in a case in the last five years, said Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who tracks death penalty cases.
Yet Colorado uses the death penalty relatively sparingly. There has only been one execution since it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. The state legislature fell one vote short of abolishing the death penalty in 2009.
At a news conference in San Diego, where Holmes’ family lives, their lawyer, Lisa Damiani, refused to answer questions about him and his relationship to the family. She said later: “Everyone’s concerned” about the possibility of the death penalty.
When asked if they stood by Holmes, Damiani said, “Yes they do. He’s their son.”
Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. He is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and he could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations. Holmes has been assigned a public defender.
Weeks before, Holmes quit a 35-student Ph.D. program in neuroscience for reasons that aren’t clear. He had earlier taken an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year but University of Colorado Denver officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.
At a news conference, university officials refused to answer questions about Holmes. “To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done,” Donald Elliman, the university chancellor.
The judge has issued an order barring lawyers in the case from publicly commenting on matters including evidence, whether a plea deal is in the works or results of any examination or test performed on someone.
Some of the victims’ families, who had traveled to Colorado to attend the hearing, planned to return home to plan funerals. Chambers said her office would keep them informed through various methods, including the news media, while following the judge’s order.
“At this point everyone is interested in a fair trial with a just outcome for everybody involved,” she said.