CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- His hair dyed a shocking comic-book shade of orange-red, the former doctoral student accused of killing moviegoers at a showing of the new Batman movie appeared in court for the first time on Monday, but he didn’t seem to be there at all.
James Holmes shuffled into court in a maroon jailhouse jumpsuit with his hands cuffed—the first look the world got of the 24-year-old since the Friday shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 others injured at a packed midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Unshaven and appearing dazed, Holmes sat virtually motionless during the hearing, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case. At one point, Holmes simply closed his eyes. Prosecutors said they didn’t know if he was being medicated.
Throughout the hearing, he never said a word. His attorneys did all the talking when the judge asked him if he understood his rights.
His demeanor, however, angered the relatives of some of the victims of the shooting. Some stared at him the entire hearing, including Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the attack. Teves watched Holmes intently, sizing him up.
“I saw the coward in court today and Alex could have wiped the floor with him without breaking a sweat,” said Teves, whose son, a physical therapist, dove to protect his girlfriend.
“You shot a 6-year-old. Come on give me a break. You’re dressed in full combat gear, immediately surrender. Come on. Pick on some guys who know how to use guns,” Teves said.
The hearing was the first confirmation that Holmes’ hair was colored. On Friday, there were reports of his hair being red and that he told arresting officers that he was “The Joker.” Batman’s nemesis in the fictional Gotham has brightly colored hair.
It could not immediately be confirmed if he told officers that he was Batman’s enemy, however.
Investigators found a Batman mask inside his apartment after they finished clearing it of booby traps, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Holmes, whom police say donned body armor and was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly afterward. He is refusing to cooperate, authorities said. They said it could take months to identify a motive.
Holmes, who is being held in isolation at the Arapahoe County detention facility, walked into the courtroom with attorneys and others. He sat down in a jury box, next to one of his attorneys.
His entrance was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him. Two women held hands tightly, one shook her head. One woman’s eyes welled up with tears.
After the hearing, prosecutor Carol Chambers said that “at this point, everyone is interested in a fair trial with a just outcome for everybody involved.” Chambers said earlier her office is considering pursuing the death penalty against Holmes.
Chambers said a decision will be made in consultation with the victims’ families.
David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during Holmes’ hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped uninjured but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition. His daughter was scheduled to deliver her baby on Monday.
“When it’s your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry,” Sanchez said. He said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medley, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had been waiting for a year to watch the movie.
Asked what punishment Holmes should get if he is convicted, Sanchez said, “I think death is.”
At a news conference in San Diego, where Holmes’ family lives, their lawyer, Lisa Damiani, refused to answer questions about him and his relationship to the family. She said later: “Everyone’s concerned” about the possibility of the death penalty.
When asked if they stood by Holmes, Damiani said, “Yes they do. He’s their son.”
Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. Holmes is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and he could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations. Holmes has been assigned a public defender.
Security at the hearing was tight. Uniformed sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside, and deputies were positioned on the roofs of both court buildings.
Police have said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday’s shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and at school.
Holmes’ apartment was filled with trip wires, explosive devices and unknown liquids, requiring police, FBI officials and bomb squad technicians to evacuate surrounding buildings while spending most of Saturday disabling the booby traps.
Weeks before, Holmes quit a 35-student Ph.D. program in neuroscience for reasons that aren’t clear. He had earlier taken an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year but University of Colorado Denver officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.
At a news conference, university officials refused to answer questions about Holmes. “To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done,” Donald Elliman, the university chancellor.
Officials also said the school received two suspicious packages Monday. The first package arrived early in the morning and was slipped under the door at a campus building while it was mostly empty. People were not allowed into the building until the threat was cleared.
The second package was addressed to a person in a separate building and came to the school’s central mail facility.
Also in June, the owner of a gun range in Byers rejected Holmes’ membership application of a “bizarre—guttural, freakish” message on Holmes’ voicemail.
As authorities continued to investigate Holmes, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with the community holding a prayer vigil and President Barack Obama telling victims’ families that “all of America and much of the world is thinking about them.”
The pastor for the suspect’s family recalled a shy boy who was driven to succeed academically.
“He wasn’t an extrovert at all. If there was any conversation, it would be because I initiated it, not because he did,” said Jerald Borgie, senior pastor of Penasquitos Lutheran Church. Borgie said he never saw the suspect mingle with others his age at church.
“He had some goals. He wanted to succeed, he wanted to go out, and he wanted to be the best,” said Borgie, noting that last spoke with Holmes about six years ago. “He took pride in his academic abilities. A good student. He didn’t brag about it.”
The shooting was the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.