CENTENNIAL, Colo. | Prosecutors Monday filed multiple first-degree murder and attempted murder charges against the suspect in the Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
James Holmes, 24, faces 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder as well as one count of possession of an explosive device and one count known as a sentence enhancer for a crime of violence.
District Attorney Carol Chambers filed two counts of first-degree murder for each of the 12 victims, one count of premeditated murder and one count of murder with extreme indifference to the value of human life. Both charges carry a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum penalty of death.
The family of Gordon Cowden, who was killed in the attack, released a statement after the hearing expressing support for the legal process.
“We feel confident that our judicial system, as will God and the public, [will] see to it that this evil man receives the punishment he deserves, and our hope and prayers are that one day, he will face God with remorse and tremendous sorrow for his actions,” the statement said.
Mr. Holmes, his hair still dyed bright reddish-orange, appeared dazed and unfocused, just as he did at last week’s initial hearing. The only time he spoke was to say “yes” when the judge asked him if he agreed to waive his right to a preliminary hearing within 35 days.
Judge William Sylvester, chief judge of the 18th Judicial District, scheduled the preliminary hearing for Nov. 13. Two other matters related but not central to the case were moved back to August.
A hearing to address requests by media outlets to unseal the case file was set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 9. A hearing to decide whether a notebook that Mr. Holmes supposedly sent to his psychiatrist at the University of Colorado constitutes privileged communication was slated for Aug. 16.
Attorneys for Mr. Holmes did not enter a plea Monday, but legal experts expect them to press for a mental health evaluation in the coming months. He could delay or avoid the death penalty if the court finds him either incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.
Craig Silverman, a former Denver chief deputy district attorney, said prosecutors filed two charges of first-degree murder per victim in order to factor in the possibility of a defense challenge to the premeditation argument.
“The defense might otherwise argue, ‘Hey, our client had no intention of killing a 6-year-old girl,’” Mr. Silverman said. “It’s just a back-up theory.”
“This is hardly a whodunit,” he said. “That’s what this case boils down to: Is he going to be sentenced to death or not?”
A former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Denver, Mr. Holmes is accused of storming the Century 16 theater, setting off two gas canisters and opening fire on the packed crowd during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Mr. Holmes’ apartment in north Aurora was later found to be booby-trapped with explosives. Authorities spent several days dismantling and removing the grenades, some of which were detonated at a remote bomb-disposal facility.
Mr. Holmes’ attorneys said in a motion filed Friday that he was seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, raising questions about his mental stability. The defense may call for a mental health evaluation in order to determine whether he is competent to stand trial or even legally insane.
“I think they’ll try to get the insanity plea because they have nowhere else to go,” Mr. Silverman said.
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Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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