Survivors of Colorado theater attack in court
CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) – An elaborate booby trap system found in the apartment of the suspected gunman in last year’s Colorado theater shooting included improvised napalm and thermite, which burns so hot that water can’t put out the blaze, a FBI bomb technician testified Tuesday, and police said loud music playing on a timer-equipped portable stereo was used to lure people to the door.
Prosecutors are trying to show that the shooting that killed 12 and wounded at least 58 was a premeditated act and that James Holmes should stand trial for one of the country’s worst mass shootings. Defense attorneys have said Holmes is mentally ill.
Bearded and disheveled, Holmes appeared blank as audio from the first emergency call from the movie theater was played. The call lasted 27 seconds, and police say at least 30 shots could be heard.
Bomb technician Garrett Gumbinner said three different ignition systems were later found in Holmes’ apartment. A thermos full of glycerin leaned over a skillet full of another chemical. Flames and sparks are created when they mix, and a trip wire linked the thermos to the door.
Holmes is charged with more than 160 counts, including murder and attempted murder. Authorities said the victims who died were shot from one to nine times.
Dozens of survivors and family members of the dead have packed the courtroom as details of the attack, until then kept quiet by a judge’s order, emerge.
Later in the day, Det. Craig Appel testified Tuesday that James Holmes had paper bags over his hands to preserve gunshot residue. Holmes played with the bags as if they were puppets. Appel said Holmes also played with a cup on the table and tried to jam a staple into an electrical outlet.
Defense attorney Daniel King asked whether Holmes had been tested for drugs or other substances. Appel said there was no indication that he was under the influence of anything.
Appel acknowledged that Holmes’ pupils’ were dilated, something that had also been noted by the officer who arrested him.
On Monday, police officers struggled to hold back tears during their testimony, describing how they found a 6-year-old girl without a pulse, tried to keep a wounded man from jumping out of a moving police car to go back for his young daughter and screaming at a gunshot victim not to die.
Holmes watched intently as one detective showed surveillance video of him calmly entering the theater lobby, holding the door open for a couple behind him, and printing out tickets to the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Authorities did not show video of the attack but said Holmes, wearing body armor, tossed two gas canisters into the packed theater and opened fire.
Officers later found Holmes standing next to his car. Officer Jason Oviatt at first thought Holmes was a policeman because he wore body armor, but then he realized Holmes was just standing there and not rushing inside.
Oviatt said Holmes seemed “very, very relaxed” and didn’t seem to have “normal emotional reactions” to things. “He seemed very detached,” he said.
Officers saw people running out of the theater and trying to drive away. Others walked. Some of the wounded tried to crawl.
“After I saw what I saw in the theater – horrific – I didn’t want anyone else to die,” said Officer Justin Grizzle, who ferried the wounded to the hospital.
Inside the theater, the movie was still playing. An alarm was going off, and cellphones rang unanswered.
Caleb Medley was wounded in the head, and Grizzle recalled the 23-year-old struggling to breathe on the way to the hospital. Grizzle said he yelled at him not to die. Medley survived, and his wife gave birth to their first baby days after the shooting.
Another man Grizzle took to the hospital kept asking for his 7-year-old daughter. For about half of the trip, Grizzle said, he had to restrain him from jumping from the car. At one point, the man opened the door and tried.
Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard, near tears, recalled not finding a pulse on the youngest victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
It’s rare for a judge not to order a trial if a case gets this far. Legal analysts say that evidence appears to be so strong that Holmes may well accept a plea agreement before trial.
While prosecutors have yet to decide on whether they will seek the death penalty, such a plea could get Holmes a lesser sentence, such as life in prison; help the state avoid a costly trial; and spare survivors and families of those who died from the trauma of going through a lengthy trial.
Associated Press writers Dan Elliott and P. Solomon Banda contributed.
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