Hearing Gives First Glimpses of Suspected Shooter

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3min 35sec

Photo 1 - James Holmes. Credit: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post

Photo 2 - Prosecution team; Photo 3 - Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers; Photo 4 - Outside the courthouse. Credit: CPR/MVerlee]

The public got its first look at James Holmes Monday. He's the man accused of spraying an Aurora movie theater with bullets, killing twelve people. In the morning, Holmes had his first appearance before a judge at the Arapahoe County Courthouse. A few hours later, officials with the University of Colorado revealed a bit about the exclusive neuroscience program Holmes was in the process of withrdawing from. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports.

[The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report]

Reporter Megan Verlee: When Zachary Moore arrived for his DUI hearing Monday morning, he found law enforcement officers prowling the courthouse roof, dozens of idling TV trucks, and rows of journalists working under temporary shade canopies.

Zachary Moore: "It’s mayhem. I thought honestly it looked like a carnival when I pulled up."

Reporter: A grim carneval, as journalists waited to catch a glimpse of James Holmes, his legal team, or any victims of Friday’s shooting. Photographers crowded around the front entrance, snapping away at everyone walking in, not knowing whether any of them were actually related to the case. Two floors up in the courtroom, suspect James Holmes arrived wearing a maroon jail shirt, his hair dyed shades of red and orange. For the next twelve minutes, he sat nearly motionless, at times wide-eyed and seemingly dazed. He never spoke. Judge William Sylvester read him his rights.

Judge William Sylvester: "...You have the right to remain silent. If you make any statements they can be used against you..."

Reporter: This hearing was just to take care of legal preliminaries; the real developments will come next week when Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers unveils the charges against Holmes. Afterwards, outside the courthouse, Chambers said her office is consulting with victims as she decides whether to seek the death penalty.

Carol Chambers: "The death penalty decision has to be made within sixty days of the arraignment, so it’s months down the line still. But we will, over the course of those months, be talking with all of the victims, developing relationships, just so they know who we are and who they can talk to, and that will take some time in this case."

Reporter: With so many witnesses and so much evidence, one reporter asked Chambers if the prosecution is a slam dunk. Not at all, she replied.

Chambers: "It’s still a very active, ongoing investigation. We’re still doing subpoenas, search warrants, we’re still looking at this case from every angle."

Reporter: For many, this was a chance to get a glimpse into who James Holmes is. The hearing provided the first literal look at him. And a few hours later, officials with the University of Colorado medical school gave a few clues into his time there. Dean Barry Shur wouldn’t talk about the suspect directly, but he described the Ph.D program Holmes attended as extremely selective, only admitting a fraction of its applicants, and the students and faculty as a tight-knit group.

Barry Shur: "You have to understand, the program directors are with these students daily. This isn’t something that, ‘oh maybe I’ll see the student in six months.’ It’s a family, a team-building family environment."

Reporter: Holmes began the process to drop out of the program in early June. Shur says it’s rare for students to withdraw, but he wouldn’t say whether anyone at CU counselled Holmes about that decision. He did say faculty were always concerned about the well-being of their students.

Shur: "Any student that would have academic or any other kind of difficulties - those are the ones that the program leadership would probably focus their interest on more than anyone."

Reporter: CU officials say the university has programs in place to identify and help students struggling with mental illness. But as the investigation continues, it could be a while before the public knows whether Holmes took advantage of them.