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Mr. Holmes is likely to undergo a mental health evaluation before trial to determine whether he is insane or incompetent to stand trial.

“What he shows now is not nearly as important as what he shows when he’s being evaluated later by a professional,” Dr. Croft said.

Although his bewildered appearance Monday may have no bearing on the psychiatric evaluation, it could influence viewers who ultimately might wind up in the jury pool, Ms. Gorgens said.

“In terms of whether the defense team elects to pursue ‘not guilty by reason of insanity,’ his appearance is posturing in a way. It paints him in a certain light in front of all these potential jurors,” she said. “There could be an element of theater or PR here.”

If Mr. Holmes is found incompetent to stand trial, he likely would be assigned to the Colorado Mental Health Institute until he is found competent and able to assist with his defense. If found guilty but insane, he would be judged not criminally responsible for his actions and therefore not eligible for the death penalty.

Ms. Gorgens said such a scenario is unlikely. “Insanity defenses are successfully raised in something like 1 percent of cases,” she said. “It’s a hard sell to juries.”

Another possibility is that the defense could argue that Mr. Holmes was legally sane before the crime but that the shootings may have caused him to lose his grip on reality.

“I understand he’s acting really weird in jail. Is that because he’s trying to get people to think he’s psychotic?” Dr. Croft said. “Or is it because he did such a horrible act that he’s actually become psychotic?”