Charges expected for Colorado shooting suspect

July 30, 2012

The booking photo of James Holmes (Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office)

Alleged Colorado cinema gunman James Holmes will be back in court later today, this time to learn how many criminal charges he’ll be facing.

Holmes, 24, is accused of blasting his way through a packed movie house during a premiere showing of Batman “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora.

Twelve victims died in the attack, 58 others were wounded. The rampage is among the worst mass shootings in modern-day American history.

Holmes was clad in full body armor and possessed four guns and a stockpile of ammo when he surrendered to officers behind the cinema. He did not resist arrest, but investigators have since described the former neuroscience doctoral student as uncooperative.

The suspect seemed dazed and groggy when he appeared in court three days after the movie massacre. His hair was dyed a cartoonish orange-red. He did not speak.

Cameras will not be allowed at Monday’s hearing, scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. ET. Yahoo! News will be in the courtroom.

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Holmes has been held since July 20 on suspicion of murder, but prosecutors will likely charge him with numerous counts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. A decision to seek the death penalty could be months away.

Police say Holmes legally purchased the guns in May and June, but allegedly began stockpiling ammo and other gear four months ago.

“This is not a whodunit. … The only possible defense is insanity,” Craig Silverman, a former chief deputy district attorney in Denver, told the Associated Press. “

At Monday’s hearing, attorneys are also expected to argue a defense motion to find out who leaked information to the news media about a package the former grad student allegedly sent to his psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Denver.

Authorities seized the package July 23, three days after the shooting, after finding it in the mailroom of the medical campus where Holmes studied. Several media outlets reported that it contained a notebook with descriptions of an attack, but Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said in court papers that the parcel hadn’t been opened by the time the “inaccurate” news reports appeared.

On Friday, court papers revealed that Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist at the university. But they did not say how long he was seeing Dr. Lynne Fenton and if it was for a mental illness or another problem.

The University of Colorado’s website identified Fenton as the medical director of the school’s Student Mental Health Services. An online resume listed schizophrenia as one of her research interests and stated that she sees 10 to 15 graduate students a week for medication and psychotherapy, as well as 5 to 10 patients in her general practice as a psychiatrist, the Associated Press reported.

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. However, the law warns that “care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives, and kindred evil conditions.”

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Experts say there are two levels of insanity defenses. Holmes’ public defenders could argue he is not mentally competent to stand trial, like Jared Loughner, who killed six people when he shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011. Loughner has pleaded not guilty to charges in the shooting. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is undergoing treatment at a Missouri prison facility in a bid to make him mentally fit to stand trial.

If Holmes’ attorneys cannot convince the court that he is mentally incompetent, and he is convicted, they can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill.

Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, said there is “pronounced” evidence that the attack was premeditated, which would seem to make an insanity defense difficult. “But,” he told the Associated Press, “the things that we don’t know are what this case is going to hinge on, and that’s his mental state.”

(The Associated Press and Yahoo staffer Tim Skillern in Centennial, Colo. contributed to this report.)

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