CENTENNIAL, Colo. | A judge entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday on behalf of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes after rejecting a request from his attorneys for more time to formulate a plea.
District Court Chief Judge William Sylvester denied a request from the defense for a continuance, saying they had failed to show “good cause.” The judge entered a standard not-guilty plea that may be changed later to not guilty by reason of insanity.
“This court would certainly consider a subsequent not guilty by reason of insanity plea,” Mr. Sylvester said.
Speculation had been rife that the defense would enter an insanity plea, but attorney Daniel King said attorneys still needed to consider the legal ramifications and complete psychiatric evaluations on their client, who is charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and related crimes.
“I don’t think we could ethically stand before you and tell you we’re ready to make a plea,” said Mr. King.
In the wake of the massacre, Colorado Democrats are moving to pass a package of gun control measures, including limits on magazine capacity and universal background checks for gun buyers. State Republicans argue that the bills would not have prevented the tragedy.
Mr. Holmes, 25, appeared in court wearing a red jail uniform and looking somewhat unkempt, with a full head of hair and a shaggy beard. His hair and beard were dark brownish-red and not dyed, a contrast from his first court appearance when he appeared with brightly dyed orange hair.
Prosecutors urged the judge to proceed with the case stemming from the July 20 mass shooting at the Century Aurora 16 movie theater, which left 12 dead and 58 injured.
District Attorney George Brauchler said he would be ready by the April 1 hearing to say whether he would seek the death penalty in the case. The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Aug. 5 at the Arapahoe County Justice Center.
The newly elected district attorney is widely expected to ask for the death penalty after running on a campaign in support of capital punishment.
“I anticipate George Brauchler will seek the death penalty,” said former Denver Deputy District Attorney Craig Silverman. “He now has 60 days to make a death-penalty decision, but he told the court that he doesn’t need that much time, that he would be ready by April 1.”
Mr. Silverman said the survivors and victims’ relatives who attended the hearing were clearly frustrated by the defense’s request for additional time.
“The victims and families sitting in front of me were visibly agitated by the defense request for a delay, and they were heartened by Judge Sylvester putting his foot down,” said Mr. Silverman.
He said asking for more time at an arraignment is “not that common, but it’s not that unusual either.”
“The No. 1 tactic is to delay. Delay is natural ally of a death-penalty defense,” said Mr. Silverman. “Every delay means Holmes gets to live a little longer.”
Mr. Holmes‘ parents, James and Arlene Holmes, sat in the front of the courtroom and left without commenting.
A former graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver, Mr. Holmes is accused of launching an assault on moviegoers during a midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises.” His apartment was later found to be booby-trapped with homemade explosives.