Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
CENTENNIAL – A judge on Friday delayed the arraignment of the man charged with the Colorado theater shooting until March despite objections from prosecutors and most of the victims and their families.
District Judge William Sylvester ruled Thursday night that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence at a preliminary hearing to proceed toward trial on charges that James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a suburban Denver movie theater on July 20.
Holmes, who is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, won’t have to enter a plea until March 12 after the judge granted a defense motion to delay that proceeding.
The father of Rebecca Wingo, who was killed in the shooting, shouted “Rot in hell Holmes” at the end of the hearing. The judge reconvened the proceeding to talk to Steve Hernandez, who promised to refrain from further outbursts.
Defense lawyers didn’t give a reason for seeking the delay in entering a plea.
One possible reason could be to seek a mental health evaluation by a doctor of their choosing. Lawyers for Holmes have said he is mentally ill, raising the possibility of an insanity defense.
If Holmes had entered an insanity plea on Friday, an evaluation would be done by state doctors.
Prosecutors objected to the delay and said they were ready to move ahead.
Sylvester said he understood their position but wanted to make sure he did not do anything that could lay the grounds for an appeal.
“We want to avoid at all costs doing anything improper,” the judge said.
If Holmes, 25, is convicted of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty. Prosecutors have not said whether they would pursue that sentence.
The hearing capped an emotional week in which the public, including victims and their families, got the first look at evidence gathered against Holmes and heard police officers describe attempts to save the wounded.
During the preliminary hearing, witnesses testified that Holmes spent weeks amassing an arsenal and planning the attack at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and that he took photos of himself hours before the shooting, including one that showed him grinning with a handgun.
They also detailed an elaborate setup at Holmes’ apartment designed to explode at the same time the theater attack occurred several miles away.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Holmes began acquiring weapons in early May, and by July 6 he had two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, 6,200 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire more rounds without stopping to reload.
Holmes’ lawyers called no witnesses during the hearing.
The delay of the arraignment signals the possibility of more delays in the case.
If Holmes were to be found incompetent, the case would come to a halt while he receives psychiatric treatment at the state mental hospital. He would remain there until doctors can restore him to competency, at which point the case would continue.
Once the judge rules Holmes is competent – either immediately after a competency hearing or after psychiatric treatment – and any other delays are resolved, Holmes would then enter a plea.
That happened with Jared Loughner in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A federal judge ruled Loughner was incompetent to stand trial. After more than a year in treatment, Loughner was ruled competent, the case proceeded, and he entered guilty pleas. He is serving life in prison.
Ultimately, Holmes is widely expected to plead either not guilty or – more likely – not guilty by reason of insanity.
If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes would be committed to the state mental hospital for treatment. His case would be reviewed every six months, and he conceivably could be released if he ever is deemed no longer insane.
“Insanity is what this case is going to turn on,” said Denver criminal defense attorney Dan Recht. “This is not a whodunit case.”
Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.