Theatre shooting: police testify

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iol news pic 08 jan Colorado Shooting~5 AP Defense attorney Daniel King and his team leave district court during a recess in a preliminary hearing for James Holmes at the courthouse in Centennial, Colo., on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. Investigators say Holmes opened fire during the midnight showing of the latest Batman movie on July 20, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Centennial, Colorado - The families of victims of last year's mass shooting at a Colorado theater sat through emotional testimony Monday from police officers who tried to save the lives of the wounded.

One sergeant recalled during the hearing for suspected gunman James Holmes that he checked and did not find a pulse for the youngest victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.

Another who drove the wounded to the hospital said he had to stop one man worried about his 7-year-old daughter from jumping out of the moving patrol car.

A bearded Holmes didn't appear to show any emotion. One woman sat with her head buried in her hands during the testimony about Veronica.

The first extensive details were emerging about the young man suspected of killing 12 people and wounding at least 58 in one of the worst mass shootings in the U.S. last year. The hearing will determine whether the case will go to trial.

The massacre thrust the problems of gun violence and mental illness into the forefront before they receded in the ensuing months. Now, just weeks after a shooting spree at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school left 20 children and six adults dead, prosecutors are laying out their case with the nation embroiled in a debate over gun violence and mental illness.

Any new details to emerge this week - including Holmes' mental state - will come amid the discussion over an array of proposals, including tougher gun laws, better psychiatric care and the arming of teachers.

Holmes is charged with more than 160 counts, including murder and attempted murder. Investigators say he was wearing a gas mask, in addition to the body armor, when he tossed two gas canisters and opened fire in the theater on July 20.

When officers arrived, they saw people running out of the theater and trying to drive away. Others walked. Some of the wounded tried to crawl out.

Officers found Holmes standing next to his car. At first, Officer Jason Oviatt said, he thought Holmes was a policeman because of how he was dressed but then realized he was just standing there and not rushing toward the theater.

Oviatt pointed his gun at him, handcuffed him and searched him. He said he found two knives and a semi-automatic handgun on top of Holmes' car. An ammunition clip fell out of his pocket and Oviatt found another on the ground. He said Holmes was dripping in sweat and his pupils were wide open.

Prosecutors did not indicate why Holmes' pupils were dilated.

Oviatt said Holmes seemed “very, very relaxed” and didn't seem to have “normal emotional reactions” to things. “He seemed very detached,” he said.

Holmes volunteered that his apartment had been booby trapped, the officers said.

At one point, Grizzle asked Holmes if anyone had been helping him or working with him. “He just looked at me and smiled ... like a smirk,” Grizzle recalled.

Officer Aaron Blue said Holmes was fidgeting around after he and Oviatt put him in a patrol car, prompting them to stop and search Holmes again. They were worried they might have missed something because of Holmes' bulky outfit.

Until now, many details of the case have been kept quiet. Three days after the shooting, District Judge William Sylvester forbade attorneys and investigators from discussing the case publicly, and many court documents have been filed under seal.

Police say Holmes, now 25, had stockpiled weapons, ammunition and explosives. He was a first-year student in a Ph.D. neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, Denver, but he failed a year-end exam and withdrew, authorities have said.

The shootings came six weeks later.

Federal authorities have said Holmes entered the theater with a ticket and is believed to have propped open a door, slipped out to his car and returned with his weapons. Police arrested him outside the theater shortly after the shootings ended.

Legal analysts said that evidence appears to be so strong that Holmes may accept a plea agreement before trial. In general, plea agreements help prosecutors avoid costly trials, give the accused a lesser sentence like life in prison rather than the death penalty and spare the victims and their families from the trauma of going through a lengthy trial.

Holmes' mental health could be a significant issue in the hearing.

His attorneys have told the judge Holmes is mentally ill, but they have not said whether they plan to employ an insanity defense. He had seen a university psychiatrist, and his lawyers have said he tried to call the psychiatrist nine minutes before the killing began.

Defense lawyers have said they plan to call at least two witnesses who could testify about Holmes' mental health. Prosecutors asked the judge to block the witnesses, but he refused.

Lawyers have been debating what physical evidence should be made available, whether a psychiatrist who met with Holmes is barred from testimony by doctor-patient privilege and other issues. - Sapa-AP



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