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Police describe Colorado movie shooting suspect as relaxed, detached
First Published Jan 07 2013 11:09 am • Last Updated Jan 07 2013 02:42 pm

CENTENNIAL, Colo. • Police officers who arrested James Holmes after the Colorado movie theater massacre described the suspected gunman, clad in body armor, as unusually relaxed but fidgety at times.

Holmes didn’t resist arrest behind the theater and volunteered that his apartment had been booby trapped, the officers testified during the opening of a hearing in which prosecutors began laying out their case against the former neuroscience graduate student.

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Officer Jason Oviatt said Holmes seemed "very, very relaxed" and didn’t seem to have "normal emotional reactions" to things.

"He seemed very detached from it all," he said.

When Oviatt first saw Holmes in his gear standing next to his car behind the theater, he thought he was a fellow officer but then realized Holmes was standing still, and not rushing toward the theater.

Oviatt pointed his gun at him, handcuffed him and searched him. He said he found two knives and a semi-automatic handgun on top of Holmes’ car. Oviatt said an ammunition magazine also fell out of Holmes’ pocket and he found another one on the ground. He said Holmes was dripping in sweat and his pupils were wide open.

Officer Aaron Blue said Holmes was fidgeting around after he and Oviatt put him in a patrol car, prompting them to stop and search Holmes again. They were worried they might have missed something because of Holmes’ bulky outfit.

Investigators say Holmes tossed two gas canisters and then opened fire during the midnight showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

The preliminary hearing is expected to last all week. It will allow the judge to determine whether the prosecution’s case is strong enough to warrant a trial but it’s rare for a judge not to order a trial if a case gets this far.

With some families of shooting victims listening, police officers fought to keep their composure as they testified about their efforts to try to save the wounded without enough ambulances.


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The movie was still playing as they entered the theater. An alarm was going off and moviegoers’ cellphones rang unanswered. There was so much blood on the floor, officer Justin Grizzle said he slipped and almost fell down.

As Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard recalled not finding a pulse on the youngest victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, a woman in the courtroom sat with her head buried in her hands.

Grizzle recalled ferrying the wounded to the hospital and said he had to stop one man worried about his 7-year-old daughter from jumping out of the moving patrol car. He said there was so much blood in his car that he could hear it sloshing around.

A bearded Holmes didn’t appear to show any emotion.

Whatever details emerge at the preliminary hearing, they will do so in a nation that has changed dramatically since the July 20 attack that pushed the problems of gun violence and mental illness into the forefront before receding.

That debate reignited last month when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., spawning calls for better psychiatric care, tougher gun laws and the arming of teachers.

Holmes is charged with more than 160 counts, including murder and attempted murder.

Legal analysts say that evidence appears to be so strong that Holmes may well accept a plea agreement before trial.

In such cases, the preliminary hearing can set the stage for a deal by letting each side assess the other’s strengths and weaknesses, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

They "are often the first step to resolving the case, a mini-trial so both sides can see the writing on the wall," she said.

In general, plea agreements help prosecutors avoid costly trials, give the accused a lesser sentence like life in prison rather than the death penalty, and spare the victims and their families from the trauma of going through a lengthy trial.

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