Theater shooting trial: What we learned from the first witnesses

April 29, 2015
Photo: Holmes courtroom sketch (AP) 1.20.15
In this courtroom sketch, James Holmes, left, and defense attorney Tamara Brady are depicted, as they sit in court on the first day of jury selection in Holmes' trial, at the Arapahoe County Justice Center, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Centennial, Colo.

During the second day of the Aurora theater shooting trial, a series of witnesses emotionally described the attack by a gunman during a midnight movie premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" three years ago.

James Holmes is on trial for killing 12 people and wounding 70 more in that attack. He's pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Here's what we learned so far:

Can we tell yet, what the strategy of the District Attorney's office is?

Before the trial legal experts told me it would be wise for them to lead off with the best witnesses. And that was certainly the case.  The first to take the stand was Katie Medley.  She told the jury that she could see how excited her husband was after seeing the trailer for the new Batman movie.  And so she relented and agreed to go to the midnight premier.  She says about 15 minutes into the movie she saw a canister of tear gas thrown from the exit door.

She thought it was a prank at first.  Medley threw her daughter to the ground.  But her husband, Caleb Medley was shot in the face. Katie was 9 months pregnant at the time, and she knew she had to escape. "So I grabbed Caleb's hand and he actually squeezed my hand, and I told him that I loved him, and that I would take care of our baby if he didn't make it." Caleb did survive.  But he lost an eye.  He suffered a traumatic brain injury.  He had life saving brain surgery while his son was born on a different floor.  He's still in a wheelchair.

Why call so many witnesses to detail what happened?

Well, that was the point made by James Holmes' legal team during opening statements.  Daniel King, his public defender, asked the jury to consider why the district attorney feels the need to so thoroughly recreate the crime scene, when it's not contested what happened in that theater. The District Attorney George Brauchler is pursuing the death penalty.  And it's possible he wants to play on the emotions of the jurors. Though, to be fair, some experts say Brauchler must prove Holmes' committed all 12 of the murders and 70 attempted murders.

It might be easy to forget, but this movie premier was highly anticipated.

Which is partly why Holmes picked it, according to the DA.  He knew it would be the perfect place to inflict mass casualties.  Hearing the witnesses re-live that night highlights how big a deal this was.  They talked about the excitement, buying tickets in advance, the rowdy atmosphere, people were dressed in Batman costumes, with plenty of kids running around.  And, of course, everything changes in an instant.

How long will testimony from victims of the attack continue?

It could take weeks. To make its case, the prosecution also is expected to call on two court-appointed psychiatrists. They'll testify Holmes was sane at the time of the attack. The defense disputes that - and has its own expert witnesses to back up Holmes' plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial is expected to last several months.

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