James Eagan Holmes, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people in a US movie theatre has made his first appearance in a Colorado courtroom.
Monday’s court appearance saw 40 members of the victims’ families in attendance, as Holmes, with his hair dyed red sat silently and allowed his lawyers to do most of the talking.
Holmes, being held without bond, appeared “extremely subdued” and often looked down on to the floor of the Arapahoe County courthouse, Leanne Gregg, an NBC correspondent outside the court house, told Al Jazeera.
A father of one of the victims, reported Gregg, was “shocked”. He was “horrified” to see Holmes sitting silently and looking groggy in the court room.
Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester presided over the 20-minute proceeding consisted mainly of an initial reading of the former neuroscience doctoral student’s rights.
Carol Chambers, the county’s district attorney, speaking outside the court house, said she would consult with the victims and families of the dead before making a decision on seeking the death penalty.
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The decision on the death penalty must be made within 60 days of Holmes’ arraignment, “so it’s months down the line”, said Chambers, who has prosecuted two of the three inmates currently Colorado’s death row.
Gregg reported that the legal proceedings could take months.
Holmes, meanwhile, is being held in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners.
The crime meets all the elements of Colorado capital case law, including premeditation, multiple victims, and the killing of a child – a six-year-old girl was among the dead in Friday’s attack – said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor.
“If James Holmes isn’t executed, Colorado may as well throw away its death penalty law,” he said.
Another hearing has been scheduled for Monday when formal charges will be laid out against the former University of Colorado student.
Also on Monday, Lisa Daimani, the lawyer representing Holmes’ family members plans to hold a news conference in San Diego, California.
Holmes was detained immediately after the massacre during a screening of Christopher Nolan’s third film in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises, early on Friday morning.
Police say Holmes was dressed in body armour and toting three guns – a Smith & Wesson M&P .223 semi-automatic
rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock .40-calibre handgun – when he opened fire at a packed midnight screening of the film at a theatre complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Another 58 people were wounded, with many sustaining serious injuries.
Gregg says the entire community has been affected by the attack, which comes 13 years after two teenage boys shot dead 15 students and faculty at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
“There are a lot of makeshift memorials and vigils” near the attack site, she said.
On Sunday, just hours after Barack Obama, the US president travelled to the suburb of 325,000 to offer comfort to families of the victims, a candlelight vigil of 10,000 people was held, said Gregg.
Police say they are still searching for a motive for the crime, which baffled fellow students and acquaintances, and have asked for assistance from the FBI’s behavioural analysis unit.
They described Holmes, a native of San Diego, as a quiet high-achiever whose past gave little inkling that anything was amiss. He had recently begun paperwork to drop out of a neuroscience PhD programme, days after having taken preliminary examinations, at the University of Colorado’s local campus in Aurora.