Cuffed and silent Holmes appears in packed court


AMERICA GOT its first glimpse of James Holmes yesterday as the man believed to have murdered 12 people and injured at least 58 in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theatre made his first appearance in court.

In a small courtroom packed with media, relatives of the dead and injured and even some of the walking wounded, Holmes sported a shock of dyed-orange hair and a prison jumpsuit.

His hands were cuffed and he did not say a word. He did not seem to look at his victims, either staring straight ahead or looking at his feet.

Holmes seemed dazed and at one point had to be encouraged to stand up, prompting speculation that he was on medication.

The brief 10-minute appearance now sets in train what is expected to be a lengthy legal battle as prosecutors prepare a huge charge sheet and defence lawyers consider whether their client is mentally fit to stand trial.

Holmes (24) will be accused of bursting into a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora, hurling gas canisters and shooting his victims. He also left behind a booby-trapped apartment filled with home-made bombs.

When arrested he reportedly told police he was the iconic Batman villain the Joker, who also has coloured hair.

For victims in the court, seeing the man who had brought such agony to their quiet slice of suburbia was surreal and upsetting.

“I just wanted to see him face to face. He was not able to look at me,” said Mckayla Hicks (17), who was shot in the jaw.

The picture that has emerged so far of Holmes is of a lonely, shy person but one who was a talented scientist who had grown up in a stable middle-class home in San Diego and been a camp counsellor and an excellent student. “I know people say he was a genius. It is hard to see someone that smart throw it away,” said Hicks.

But some victims in the courtroom were less keen on trying to understand what might have been going through Holmes’s mind. David Sanchez, whose son-in-law was shot but survived, was visibly upset by being near the suspected killer.

“He was pretty crazy-looking. There was something not right about him,” Sanchez said. He added: “Justice would be served for him to get the death penalty.”

Gun controls have actually grown looser since the 1999 Columbine school shooting – which also happened in suburban Denver, just a few miles from Aurora in the city of Littleton.

In his speeches on the tragedy President Barack Obama has spoken of the suffering of the victims and the sense of shock that has spread across the nation, but has not mentioned any support for tightening gun laws.

Less unexpectedly, neither has his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose party base is fiercely opposed to any gun-control legislation.

Much has been made of the sheer size of the arsenal that Holmes collected over the past four months. He will be accused of putting it to grim use inside the movie screening.

It consisted of four guns, including a semi-automatic assault rifle, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition and head-to-toe bullet-proof protection.

However, all of it was bought entirely legally, either online or in person in a gun store. – (Guardian service)