Six months after the July 20 shooting that killed 12 and injured 58 in Aurora, Colo., the preliminary hearing of UC Riverside alumnus James Holmes commenced on Jan. 7. Holmes, who is tied to the shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, faces 166 charges, including weapons offenses and murder.
Many turned up for the long-awaited hearing, which determined whether or not the defendant would stand trial.
At the hearing, police officers testified against Holmes and recalled apprehending him while helping the injured victims. One policeman remembered finding a six-year-old girl without a pulse and struggling to keep a wounded man inside a moving police car as he tried to go back to the theatre for his seven-year-old daughter.
Two pathologists also testified, saying that 12 dead victims were shot anywhere from one to nine times. Holmes remained emotionless throughout the many testimonies.
Some disturbing photos retrieved from Holmes’ phone also emerged during the hearing. One image showed Holmes smiling at the camera whilst holding a handgun just hours before the shooting began. Another image showed Holmes wearing a black cap, sticking his tongue out.
Holmes’ defense attorneys may pursue an insanity plea to avoid a death penalty. “You’re aware that people can be found not guilty on the grounds of insanity?” one of Holmes’ lawyers asked at the hearing. However, police investigators have said that this situation may be premeditated, which would make the insanity plea difficult to defend.
The defense team, led by Daniel King, provided limited evidence and witnesses about Holmes’s mental state. King did not offer a closing argument.
On Jan. 10, a day after the three-day hearing ended, Judge William Sylvester ruled that the prosecution had established the probable cause necessary to proceed with a trial. The judge allowed the arraignment to be postponed until March 12, giving the defense more time to prepare for the case. An insanity plea and defense is expected.
UCR students reacted to the hearing, voicing their opinions about what the final verdict should be.
“I’m not a believer in the death penalty,” said Aaron Johnson, a political science major. “I know in situations like this, it’s human nature to want revenge… but I don’t think he deserves the death penalty. I think he deserves life in prison.”
Some students had a very different reaction.
“No guy who throws smoke grenades into a crowded theatre, walking with an AR-15 and multiple handguns, just shooting wildly deserves to live,” claimed David Hall, a psychology major.
“He should be drawn and quartered,” said Alex Hill, a third-year english major. “But of course, only after he is given due process.”
Hill also commented on Holmes’ affiliation to UCR and what it means for the campus.
“The actions of Holmes should not reflect poorly on UCR,” she expressed. “There is no evidence to suggest that his behavior is in any way indicative of any issues UCR itself perpetuates.”
Freshman Eliza Alcaraz, a computer science major, also responded by saying, “When I heard about the shooting during the summer, I was astounded. Adding the most recent massacre at Sandy Hook elementary to that, it’s clear that we as Americans need to petition stricter gun rules. The larger public doesn’t agree to this, but it’s becoming very necessary.”
The trial will commence on March 12. The death penalty for Holmes has been discussed, but prosecutors may choose not to pursue it and could instead pursue a life sentence out of the possibility that the defendant may win the case by taking an insanity plea. Families of victims are hoping Holmes will at least plead guilty to the murders instead of pursuing an insanity defense.