Cinema massacre trial begins in Colorado, US
James Holmes pleads not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 at Batman screening
The entrance to Arapahoe County District Court, Colorado. The trial for a cinema massacre in the state in 2012 is underway in the courthouse. Photograph: Evan Semon/Reuters
The long-awaited trial for a cinema massacre in Colorado is underway, with jurors asked to decide whether gunman James Holmes was insane when he killed a dozen moviegoers in 2012, or a calculating mass murderer who deserves execution.
Public defenders trying to spare the life of the former neuroscience graduate student and prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Mr Holmes are to present their opening statements in a courtroom on the outskirts of Denver.
Mr Holmes (27), pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and wounding 70 inside a crowded midnight screening of the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. He was armed with a handgun, shotgun and semiautomatic rifle during the incident.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour has said he expects the trial to take four months.
Lawyers for Mr Holmes, who is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, concede he was the lone gunman, but have argued that the southern California native was in the throes of a psychotic episode when he plotted and carried out the attack.
While prosecutors are planning to use graphic images from the crime scene during the trial, as outlined in a preliminary hearing in 2013, the crux of their case is proving Mr Holmes was sane at the time of the massacre.
Mr Holmes has undergone two court-ordered sanity examinations since his arrest, which have produced many hours of video and piles of documents, all sealed by the judge. According to court papers, they provided conflicting results.
Former Colorado prosecutor Bob Grant said the government must lay out for jurors the horror of the July night when Mr Holmes, dressed in a gas mask, helmet and body armour, lobbed a tear gas canister into the screening at Aurora’s Century 16 multiplex, before opening fire.
Mr Holmes appeared in court days after the incident looking disoriented, and with his hair dyed orange.
“They will try to put the jury in those theatre seats,” Mr Grant said.
Mr Holmes, who graduated with honours from the University of California, Riverside, has no criminal record. He had been courted by neuroscience doctoral programmes, but withdrew from a graduate programme at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus before the attack.
Mr Holmes’s public defenders will focus throughout the trial on his mental state, Colorado criminal defence lawyer Mark Johnson said.
“The defence theme from the get-go will be that, as a civilised society, we don’t put mentally ill people to death,” Mr Johnson said.
Mr Holmes has been hospitalised at least twice since his arrest, according to his lawyers. Once he was treated for an apparent self-inflicted head injury.
Another time he was taken to a Denver psychiatric ward, where his lawyers said he was held “frequently in restraints” for several days.
Colorado prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty.