By this time, the suspect, James Holmes, was in custody, just feet away from the inside of the theater, on the other side of the back exit door which police say he used both to enter the theater with his weapons and to exit from it when he was done. By the time the movie stopped, Holmes was handcuffed and stripped of his body armor, and his gas mask, and his helmet, and had told the police that his apartment, not too far away, was booby-trapped with an "improvised explosive device" -- the exact words Holmes used, according to the police.
By the time the film had stopped playing, some of the victims had made it outside, trailing so much blood that one officer at the scene testified that he nearly slipped on his way into the theater. "Most of them were covered with blood," said Aurora Police Officer Justin Grizzle, "lots of blood." A former paramedic, Grizzle made four trips in his patrol car to area hospitals that night. He told the court that when he made turns in his patrol car he could hear the blood of the victims sloshing around on the floor of the back seat.
This is how Colorado prosecutors began the preliminary hearing in the case of Colorado v. Holmes, a case about wholesale murder and mental illness that is unlikely ever to answer the questions we have about why it happened. It took roughly three hours Monday morning in Arapahoe County District Court for four uniformed police officers to begin to tell the story of how they came upon James Holmes; and why they think he's the man who killed 12 people, and wounded 58 more, after wrapping himself in body armor and setting off tear gas.
State law permits the defense to request such a hearing -- to force prosecutors to establish the contours of their case under the low "probable cause" standard. For the defense, since the client hasn't yet even been arraigned or entered a plea of not guilty, it's a relatively free preview of some of the state's evidence. For prosecutors, it's a chance to share more of the story with the public -- meaning potential jurors. Some preliminary hearings can an hour or so. Because of the nature of the crime, this one is expected to take the better part of this week.
The courtroom Monday morning was full, with the typical bride's side/groom's side dichotomy. On one side of the aisle were the journalists who are covering the story. On the other side of the aisle were the survivors and family members of the victims, and victims' rights advocates, and members of the general public. There were a great many more tears on the one side than the other. And there were more uniformed sheriff deputies inside that courtroom than I ever remember seeing at any of the federal terror trials I have covered in Washington or New York.
And at the center of it all was Holmes. He now has a full dark beard, and his hair, too, is dark brown and bushy. He looks a bit now like Tom Hanks in Castaway -- or maybe Theodore Kaczynski -- only less disheveled. He never once turned to face the gallery. I did not even see him turn slightly to face his defense team or to utter a word to them. He barely moved his head during the morning in court. He just stared ahead, blinking frequently at the testifying officers, even when they glared at him or were moved to tears by the story they were telling.