CENTENNIAL, Colo. – The preliminary hearing for James E. Holmes ended Wednesday after two days of graphic testimony showing the brutality of the attack, but without offering any motive for the mass shooting inside a suburban movie theater.
Judge William B. Sylvester decided not to rule immediately on whether Holmes will stand trail. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is probable cause to take the case to trial. Sylvester set Friday morning for a return date and possible arraignment in the case.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Karen Pearson gave an impassioned argument at the close of the hearing, saying there was “direct evidence for every single count in this case.” Holmes is charged with 166 counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapon charges.
“He didn’t care who he killed or how many he killed. He wanted to kill them all,” she said.
The prosecution said Holmes acted with precision as he amassed weapons and ammunition and acted as a deliberate and calculating killer.
The defense chose not to present any witnesses to testify about Holmes’ mental health, a key question in what type of punishment the 25-year-old can expect.
Even if Sylvester decides to accept a plea and set a court date, the debate over Holmes’ mental status could take years to resolve and the trial itself could take months. Prosecutors have 60 days after the arraignment to decide whether they will seek the death penalty, but that time frame could be extended as well.
Pearson said the burden of proof had been more than met for both murder and extreme indifference under Colorado law, adding that her office could have brought charges against Holmes for every person shot at Aurora’s Century 16 -- in both Theater 9 and the adjacent Theater 8, where some were wounded by bullets fired through the walls. She said officials could have legally brought as many as 1,500 counts against Holmes but chose to limit the charges to the 12 killed and the 70 wounded by gunfire or those injured from the tear gas or trying to escape.
“He picked the perfect venue for this crime,” Pearson said. She said Holmes knew in advance that a movie theater would be a place “where people are packed in” and that it would be difficult to escape. She added that Holmes also knew that the logistics for ambulances to respond to the movie complex would be difficult so the wounded people could potentially go without treatment.
She ticked off the evidence presented over the last three days to prove both premeditation and that Holmes was the person who unleashed the massacre: The shopping spree of weapons, military-type combat gear, and ammunition that dated back to May 10; the surveillance tape of Holmes entering the Century 16 theater minutes before the shooting began. A series of self-portraits Holmes took at his apartment a few hours before going to the theater showed him mugging for his iPhone, wearing black contact lenses to darken his eyes, orange curls peeking from under a black skull cap.
Prosecutors also presented other photos captured by police from Holmes’ phone showing a neatly laid-out array of the weaponry confiscated from the theater, from outside of the emergency exit door and from his car where he was arrested.
Public Defender Daniel King offered no argument or statement challenging probable cause.
“This is neither the proper venue nor the time to put on a show or present some truncated defense,” King said Wednesday just before the court took its morning break.
Sgt. Matthew Fyles of the Aurora Police Department, the final prosecution witness, presented the photos from the cellphone, including the self-portraits taken July 19 between 4:12 p.m. and 8:27 p.m. The last picture was taken about four hours before the first 911 call came from Theater 9 that someone was shooting. That call lasted 27 seconds and police said they heard 30 shots.
There were also photos taken in late June and early July of the Century 16 theaters -- what appears to be the interior and exterior of the building, including a purple emergency exit door.
In addition to the weapons, gas masks and body armor recovered at the scene and when Holmes was arrested, Fyles said police also confiscated several plastic clips, like those used to hold down picnic tablecloths, that had been wrapped in turquoise duct tape. One of those clips was found by police on the blood-stained emergency exit door to Theater 9, holding it ajar.
Later police found a roll of turquoise tape at Holmes’ apartment, which had been booby-trapped, another sign of Holmes’ deliberation, the prosecution alleged. The traps included materials to cause a major fire, apparently designed to draw rescuers and police away from the movie theater.