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    Prosecutors paint grim picture of theatre shooting suspect; judge deciding if trial warranted

    Defense attorney Daniel King leads his team to court for the third day of a preliminary hearing for Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes at the courthouse in Centennial, Colo., on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. - A succession of police and federal agents testified in a Colorado courtroom this week that James Holmes spent weeks amassing guns and ammunition, concocted explosives to booby-trap his apartment and scouted the movie theatre where he would allegedly unleash a horrific attack on hundreds of terrified people.

    The officers also described a hellish scene inside the theatre on July 20, when 12 people were shot to death before their families and friends' eyes and scores of others were wounded amid a din of gunshots, screams and the blaring soundtrack of "The Dark Knight Rises."

    Holmes' lawyers called no witnesses and cross-examined only a few of those summoned by prosecutors during the hearing. But they pointedly raised the issue of Holmes' sanity at strategic moments, possibly foreshadowing a defence that some believe is his best hope to avoid the death penalty.

    "You're aware that people can be found not guilty on the grounds of insanity?" defence attorney Daniel King asked one witness.

    The preliminary hearing, which ended Wednesday, is designed to allow state District Judge William Sylvester to determine whether prosecutors' case is strong enough to put Holmes on trial. Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder.

    Sylvester's decision is likely to come by Friday and if as expected he orders Holmes to stand trial, the next step will be for Holmes to enter a plea.

    Holmes' lawyers haven't said if he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but since his arrest outside the theatre in the Denver suburb of Aurora immediately after the shootings, they have portrayed him as a man with serious mental problems prone to bizarre behaviour.

    Many legal analysts have said they expect the case to end with a plea bargain rather than a trial.

    Tom Teves, whose son Alex was among the dead, said he would rather see Holmes plead guilty to first-degree murder, avoiding a traumatic trial, bringing a life sentence and closing the door to an insanity defence.

    If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes could conceivably be released someday if he is deemed to have recovered.

    "Don't pretend he's crazy," Teves said Wednesday. "He's not crazy. He's no more crazy than you and I."

    Prosecutors developed twin themes at the hearing: the horror and devastation of the attack and a weekslong process in which they alleged Holmes planned and prepared for the assault.

    Two officers were overcome by emotion when they testified about the chaos in the theatre and the race to get victims to hospitals by police cars until ambulances could arrive. Other witnesses read out, one by one, the names and injuries of the dead and wounded.

    Prosecution witnesses also testified that Holmes started assembling an arsenal in early May and by July 6 had two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, 6,200 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines that allow a shooter to fire many rounds without stopping to reload.

    In late June he began equipping himself with a helmet, gas mask and body armour, the witnesses said.

    In early July, they testified, he began buying fuses, gunpowder, chemicals and electronics to booby-trap his apartment in hopes of triggering an explosion and fire to divert police from the theatre. The bombs never went off.

    Also in early July, he took some interior and exterior photos of the theatre, witnesses said.

    "He picked the perfect venue for this crime," prosecutor Karen Pearson said.

    On Wednesday, Pearson showed a series of photos that investigators said Holmes took of himself hours before the massacre. In one, he glares through black contact lenses, sticking out his tongue, as two locks of his orange-died hair curl out on either side of his head like horns.

    Caren Teves, mother of Alex and wife of Tom Teves, said she saw Holmes smile when his self-portraits were shown in court.

    "He just sat in the courtroom pretty much delighted. He was smiling. He was smirking," she said.


    Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert, Nicholas Riccardi and Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.


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