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Colorado theater shooting suspect makes first court appearance

Story highlights

  • "He just looks like a pathetic freak," shooting survivor says
  • Authorities say James E. Holmes planned the attack for months
  • A public defender has been assigned to represent him
  • Fifteen people remain hospitalized, five in critical condition

The man accused of shooting into a packed movie theater made his first court appearance Monday, giving the public its first look at the 24-year-old former doctoral student since his arrest moments after the gunfire ended early Friday.

James E. Holmes, his hair dyed various shades of orange, looked down, then straight ahead. He sat without blinking for long periods. At times, his eyes fluttered, then squeezed tight and reopened in a blank stare. Occasionally, his eyebrows arched over several days of stubble, giving his face a mournful mien.

But the dazed-looking man, who identified himself to police as "The Joker," wore a maroon jumpsuit over a white T-shirt and gave little indication that he was paying attention to the courtroom procedure that ensured he will continue to be held without bond.

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He was then led from the courtroom and back to the Arapahoe County Jail, where he is being held in isolation. Formal charges are expected to be filed on July 30.

Booking photograph of James Eagan Holmes, accused of killing 12 in Aurora, Colorado Theater Shooting.

Asked whether Holmes was on medication, Arapaho County Undersheriff David C. Walcher said, "Even if I did know, I couldn't tell you."

Inside the courtroom, victims and their relatives watched the proceeding. McKayla Hicks was among them. She was seated in the movie theater next door to the one where the killings occurred when a bullet struck her chin. Though she has largely recovered, she said Monday's court appearance was not easy to observe.

"Once he walked into the room, it just made everything a lot harder," she told CNN.

"He just looks like a pathetic freak," she said. "I just want him put away forever."

Jordan Ghawi, whose sister Jessica was among the 12 fatalities, was not in the courtroom.

"This guy's already had his 10 minutes of fame and I don't need to see the face of the man who's taken my sister's life," he said. "I was afraid that I may try to get my hands on that man."

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He described Holmes as a coward and a genius. "I don't believe for a second that he's sitting there with his wide eyes and pretending to be incoherent," Ghawi said. "He knows what he's doing."

'You could feel the anger in the room'

"The charges on which the court found cause included first-degree murder," Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers told reporters outside the courthouse. She said prosecutors have a lot of work to do.

"I would say there's no such thing as a slam-dunk case," she said. "We're still looking at the enormous amount of evidence."

Deciding whether to pursue the death penalty is a long process that involves input from victims and their relatives, she said.

A capital case would require a finding of either extreme indifference or deliberation, she said.

Holmes is being held in connection with the shootings that also left 58 wounded, and the subsequent discovery of his booby-trapped apartment, which authorities think he rigged before leaving for the Century Aurora 16 multiplex.

Authorities have been tight-lipped about a possible motive in the case, and police spokesman Frank Fania told CNN late Sunday that Holmes has been uncooperative with investigators and requested an attorney.

Arapahoe County public defender James O'Connor has been assigned to the case. The Colorado Judicial Department declined to say whether Holmes requested a public defender. A telephone call by CNN to O'Connor's office was not returned.

Former colleague shocked that Holmes is theater shooting suspect

At the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus, administrators told reporters that Holmes took his preliminary examinations on June 7 and initiated his withdrawal from the program three days later.

"It's very unusual, very unusual for a student to withdraw from our program," Dean Barry Shur told reporters.

Entrance to the program is highly competitive: It generally has 10 applicants for each of the five or six slots that open in any given year, Shur said.

Those who are accepted typically have undergraduate grade-point averages of more than 3.6 and Graduate Record Examination scores exceeding 1,200, he said.

Though all applicants undergo background checks, Shur said he was aware of no program that requires that applicants undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Holmes did not divulge his reason for leaving the program. "That area of the form was left blank," Shur said.

Shur described scientists as "quirky" people.

"We are trained to challenge authority, to challenge what's known." But, he added, "Every laboratory is a team and no scientist is an island. And they have to function productively with their colleagues."

In addition, students in the school's doctoral programs "are very carefully monitored and coached and counseled," he said.

Meanwhile, Lisa Damiani, an attorney representing the Holmes family but not the suspect, said his family members were keeping their location secret. "I don't think they would like the media to know where they are," she said, adding that she feared for their safety.

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"They're doing as well as they can, under the circumstances," Damiani told reporters at her office in San Diego, California, where the family lives. "I think everyone can imagine how they're feeling -- anyone who's ever been a parent."

She added, "The family has elected not to discuss James or their relationship with James at this time."

The family issued a statement Friday saying, "Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved." It added, "We are still trying to process this information."

Over the weekend, Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates told reporters that there was "evidence of, I think, some calculation and deliberation."

Holmes received deliveries over the past four months at his home and work addresses, which begins to explain how he may have obtained some of the materials used in the attack and those found at his apartment, Oates said.

Aurora is bracing for another emotional week as families begin making funeral arrangements. It was not immediately known when the coroner would release the bodies.

As of late Monday, at least 15 people remained hospitalized -- five in critical condition -- in four area hospitals.

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