A police officer who was among the first to arrive at the scene of the July movie theatre shooting in Colorado yesterday described the suspect, James Holmes, as being “relaxed” and “detached” in the immediate aftermath of the killings.
Officer Jason Oviatt said the former neuroscience graduate student didn't appear to have "normal emotional reactions to things" when he was apprehended outside the Century 16 theatre in the Denver suburb of Aurora. He is accused of opening fire in the theatre during a midnight screening of the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises and killing 12 people. Another 58 were injured in the shooting spree.
Officer Oviatt's testimony came at a preliminary court hearing which is expected to last all week. He also recalled how he initially thought Holmes was an officer himself, as he was wearing a gas mask and a helmet. "He was very, very relaxed," Officer Oviatt said. "He seemed very detached from it all."
The hearing will see the first detailed disclosure of the evidence against Holmes after a judge in July barred lawyers and investigators from publicly discussing the attack.
Holmes, who is facing a variety of charges including murder and attempted murder, had bought a ticket to the screening and briefly entered the cinema hall before slipping back out to his car, according to authorities. When he returned, he is said to have been dressed body armour and a gas mask, and armed with the weapons with which he is accused of opening fire on the assembled moviegoers.
Until the Newtown killings, which led to the death of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 children, the Aurora massacre was America's worst incident of gun-related violence in 2012.
Yesterday, Holmes is reported to have shown no emotion as another officer, Sergeant Gerald Jonsgaard, recalled coming across the youngest victim. Sgt. Jonsgaard described how he could not find a pulse on 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
A third officer, Justin Grizzle, meanwhile, described the scene inside the theatre when they entered: the move was still playing, an alarm was going off in the background and mobile phones were ringing – without anyone answering. He said there so much blood on the floor of cinema hall that he nearly slipped and almost lost his balance.
Earlier, Officer Grizzle recalled how the suspect smiled at him when he asked Holmes whether a second gunman was involved. "Like a smirk," he said at the preliminary hearing.
District Judge William Sylvester, who is presiding over the hearing in Centennial, Colorado, will determine whether prosectors have enough evidence to warrant a trial.
From what is known, however, the case is thought to be strong enough that Holmes might accept a plea agreement before a full trial gets under way.
Many family members and survivors were in attendance at yesterday's proceedings.
Although the suspect’s lawyers have already told the judge that he is mentally ill, they have not revealed whether they will attempted to defend him on the grounds of insanity.
Last week, Judge Sylvester, refused a request from prosecutors to block two “lay witnesses” whom the defence plans on calling to testify about the suspect’s mental health.
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