Aurora victims' families watch 'The Joker' in court


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The Independent Online

Relatives of those killed in a massacre at a showing of new Batman movie came face to face with the man accused of unleashing the mayhem yesterday - his shock of dyed orange hair giving him the appearance of The Joker character he told police he had been emulating.

Dressed in maroon prison garb, his hands and legs bound by a chain, James Eagan Holmes was brought into a Denver-area courthouse yesterday for his first appearance before what prosecutors said would be a slew of first-degree murder charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Looking dazed or drugged, he stared either blankly ahead or down at his lap, and nodded as if almost asleep for the duration of the 12-minute hearing. After district judge William Sylvester advised Holmes of his rights and asked if he had any questions, Holmes's publicly-appointed defence attorney, Dan King, interjected to say that his client would not be saying anything at all. The 24-year-old doctoral research drop-out is accused of opening fire at the Century 16 cinema in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on Friday. killing 12 people and injuring 58 others – the largest number of casualties ever recorded in a mass shooting in the US.

Five members of families who lost loved ones in the massacre sat amidst officials from the public prosecutor's office and victims' advocates on the public benches of the low-ceilinged courtroom 201 in the Arapahoe County Justice Centre in Centennial. One young woman sobbed quietly throughout the hearing, holding hands tightly with a friend.

David Sanchez's pregnant daughter Katie escaped the cinema unhurt, but her husband, Caleb Medely, remains in a critical condition in hospital after being shot in the head.

"It makes you a little bit more angry," Mr Sanchez said after the hearing. "So many people are going to be hurt and damaged for a very long time." He added that he would want Holmes to be punished by death if convicted. In Colorado, it is the families of victims who decide whether to push for the death penalty in a case of first degree murder. Carol Chambers, District Attorney, said that a decision on whether this becomes a capital case will not come soon, and will not be easy.

"There are so many things that victims have to take into account, and seeking the death penalty is a very long process that will impact their lives for years."

For now, Holmes has not been charged. Prosecutors asked for, and were given, until Monday to present an indictment. Defence attorneys were given permission for their experts to examine the crime scenes – the still-closed cinema and Holmes's North Aurora apartment.

The court also ordered that both sides be granted access to Holmes's academic records from the University of Colorado. Police hope they might provide some answers as to what turned an apparently unthreatening straight-A student into someone who would spend months building an arsenal of weapons, rig his apartment with a home-made booby-trap bomb and set off to the cinema to kill indiscriminately.