CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Shackled and with his hair dyed a garish reddish-orange, James Holmes, the suspect accused of mass murder during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in nearby Aurora, Colo., didn’t utter a word during his first court appearance this morning, sitting quietly next to his defense attorney. Holmes was emotionless, mostly looking down or away during the procedure, his face morphing from a blank stare to bulging and wide-eyed, prompting reporters to ask attorneys if he had been drugged.
Prosecutors have a week to bring charges against Holmes, a 24-year-old former graduate student, who was being held without bond at Arapahoe County jail on suspicion of first-degree murder in the shooting spree that killed 12 people and injured 58 in the early hours of Friday morning.
Traditional local court procedures give attorneys 72 hours to file charges, but it’s not unusual for cases of this magnitude to be given additional time due to the anticipated number of charges that will be levied, including first degree murder.
Holmes was advised of his rights but no plea was entered. Formal filing of charges is expected at 9:30 a.m. next Monday.
“We are still looking at an enormous amount of evidence,” said Carol Chambers, the Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney. “It’s still a very active, ongoing investigation”
Holmes could face the death penalty, Chambers said. That determination would have to be made within 60 days of the arraignment. Attorneys would consult with victims’ families to see if they were prepared to weather that storm that could “impact their lives for years to come.” But the decision would ultimately rest with prosecutors.
“It’s a hard decision to make,” Chambers said.
Before the hearing, family members of the victims were allowed into the courtroom, along with a select group of media (about 30 additional members of the media packed an adjoining overflow room). The family members declined to speak with the press as they entered and exited the courtroom. Many of them watched intently as Holmes was escorted into the hearing.
Outside the courthouse, David Sanchez, 53, the father of a victim, said he came because his daughter asked him. Katie, Sanchez’ daughter, and his son-in-law Caleb, escaped the shooting but not without serious injury. Caleb was shot in the right side of his head and is in stable condition at a local hospital.
“It’s been horrendous,” Sanchez said. “Nobody should have to go through anything like this.”
Katie and Caleb are huge Batman fans and had been waiting for a year to see the movie, Dark Knight Rises, Sanchez said. They dressed in Batman apparel.
“We are focused more on recovery now than about what’s going on with him (Holmes),” Sanchez said.