UK & World News

  • 7 January 2013, 23:21

Aurora Shooting Suspect James Holmes In Court

The student accused of a shooting which left 12 dead and dozens wounded at a Batman film screening appeared "out of it" when he was arrested.

Prosecutors have begun outlining the case against James Holmes, who is accused of opening fire during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The week-long preliminary hearing in Centennial, Colorado, will determine whether there is enough evidence to put him on trial on more than 160 counts of murder, attempted murder and firearms offences.

One of the first police officers who arrived at the scene of the shooting told the court he initially thought Holmes was a policeman, due to the combat gear and gas mask he was wearing.

The officer said it was only when he saw everyone else fleeing apart from the masked man that he approached him.

He said Holmes simply stared into space, appearing "out of it" with hugely dilated pupils. He also said the gunman was dripping with sweat and smelled badly.

The court heard Holmes told an officer after his arrest he had booby-trapped his home with explosives, warning: "If you trip them, they will go off."

Survivors and relatives were in court for the hearing, after being warned to expect harrowing details. Video recorded inside the cinema on the night was expected to be shown.

A gagging order put in place by the judge means little has been known about the evidence against Holmes.

A promising neuroscience student, he began to stock up on weapons, ammunition, explosives and combat gear in the spring of last year. He began to see a university psychiatrist and then dropped out of his course.

Holmes, who previously cut a bizarre figure in court with bright red hair, could face the death penalty if convicted, but his lawyers claim he is mentally ill.

The Aurora rampage was one of a number of mass shootings in the US last year, culminating with the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which have raised the issue of gun control.

A review ordered by President Barack Obama is due to report back within weeks, but the gun lobby has signalled it will oppose new restrictions.

Sky News visited the Dragon Man shooting range in Colorado Springs, about an hour's drive from Aurora, and talked to those who believe the answer to gun violence is more guns.

Among the dozens of families at the range was Randall Niles and his son. Mr Niles said: "Obviously there is a notion of safety, you don't want to be a victim.

"The last place I want to go is a gun-free zone, where the bad guy can reload. Even my daughter walks into a campus and says 'That makes no sense because the bad guys don't read the law'."

Jessica Spain had come to shoot for the first time, she said, because she was worried about her personal protection.

She said: "I think everyone is a little scared of everything that is going on in the media and in the government. It is our right to protect ourselves and we have to protect that."

The range is owned by Mel 'Dragon Man' Bernstein and his gun shop is seeing unprecedented business. Like most firearms stores in the US, shelves are bare and prices are rising.

He said: "Unbelievable. I sold over 300 guns in two-and-a-half weeks. We figured out that every 15 to 20 minutes somebody came in and bought a gun because they're afraid after that school shooting."