Slow Progress A Year After The Aurora Theater Shooting

One year ago Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and stunning the nation. Guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee about the legal case against alleged shooter James Holmes.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. One year ago today, a gunman opened fire during a sold-out midnight showing of the newest Batman movie at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people died, 70 were injured. Minutes after the attack, police arrested James Holmes.

In the year since the shootings, the case against James Holmes has progressed slowly towards a trial. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee has attended many of the court proceedings. She joins me now for an update. So Megan, a year since the shooting and an actual trial date is still months away? Why are things going so slowly?

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Well, it's a case where you have the prosecution pursuing a death penalty and you have the defense entering an insanity plea and both of those are legally just very slow processes. There's a lot of wrangling and a lot of care, since this case will certainly or almost certainly be appealed, to make sure that every T is crossed and every I is dotted.

So while the lawyers wrangle, James Holmes is currently at our state hospital undergoing a mental evaluation, and the doctors down there say it's going to take them a number of months to try to reconstruct his mental state last July around the attack. So that's slowing down the case as well.

WERTHEIMER: Now, there was a preliminary hearing in January, I understand. So what did you know at the end of that hearing about what the prosecutor thinks he's going to do?

VERLEE: Well, that was a week for the prosecution to put on basically a miniature version of their evidence and they detailed everything from the weapons at the theater to the homemade bombs in Holmes' apartment. They were really trying to lay out a scene of the night; how investigators focused on Holmes after finding him outside the theater, and the identified him as the shooter.

And it was also a preview of some of the, I think, very jarring and emotional moments that we'll be seeing in the actual trial. They displayed photos that Holmes took of himself before the attack dressed in tactical gear with the weapons he purchased, with his hair that very shocking bright orange color that you saw in the early photos. And those, I believe, were meant to speak to his culpability, his awareness of what he was about to do.

We also got some pretty horrifying descriptions of the damage he allegedly did that night, descriptions of officers transporting wounded people to the hospital in their cop cars and having blood literally sloshing in the back of their cars, that the wounded were so badly injured.

WERTHEIMER: Now, will there be some sort of similar preview of what the defense is going to do or is that just going to wait upon trial?

VERLEE: We get hints of it in their filings. For instance, there was a recent one in which the defense actually admitted for the first time that Holmes was the shooter on July 20th, but in which they also said that he was in the grips of a, quote, "psychotic episode" that night. So we get these hints of where they're going to take their case but we won't see the full scope of it until the state doctors come out with their evaluation. And once that becomes public, and then during the trial we will probably also hear from defense experts who also evaluated Holmes and came to their conclusion.

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you about those hearings. What about the audience? What about the community?

VERLEE: Well, they can be very emotional hearings, especially when you're getting descriptions of the attack itself and a lot of detail about Holmes. You had family members crying as certain things were described. At the end of one day, a father of one of the victims stood up and yelled, rot in hell, Holmes, as Holmes was being led out of the courtroom.

Now we're into more procedural hearings. You get many fewer people coming to the courtroom, but there are still victims and even just people from Aurora and from the community who want to come and see Holmes in person and have some sense of who's accused of doing this.

WERTHEIMER: Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee has been covering the legal case against James Holmes, the man accused of opening fire on a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado that happened a year ago today. Megan, thank you.

VERLEE: Thank you, Linda.

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