Aurora theater shooting hearing: James Holmes's eyes lit up, said victim's dad
Editor's note: Melanie Asmar is covering today's preliminary hearing into the July 20 Aurora theater shooting allegedly committed by James Holmes. The latest update is immediately below, followed by previous coverage.
January 7, 5:28 p.m.: The final portion of the hearing began with testimony by the two forensic pathologists who performed autopsies on the twelve people who died in the shooting.
First to speak was Dr. Kelly Lear-Kaul. She and her colleague, Arapahoe County coroner Michael Doberson, each performed autopsies on six of the twelve victims. They talked about where each victim was shot, how many times they were struck, and the injury that proved fatal for each.
For example, Veronica Moser-Sullivan -- at age six, the youngest victim -- was shot a total of four times.
In cross-examining Doberson and Lear-Kaul, Daniel King, Holmes's defense attorney, raised an unusual subject in relation to their conclusion that the manner of each death was homicide. King wanted it made clear that the homicide ruling would not preclude a jury from finding that Holmes was insane at the time of the incident.
"You're not rendering an opinion on what the mental state of that person was?" King asked Doberson, to which the coroner replied, "No."
The pathologists were followed to the stand by Aurora Detective Todd Fredericksen, who testified about interviewing several of the victims in the days and weeks after the July 20 shooting. He noted that one person wound up losing his leg because of the attack, while both Ashley Moser, mother of Veronica Moser-Sullivan, and Steffon Moton, one of the last victims named, were left paralyzed by their injuries.
Fredericksen also provided an extremely graphic description of what happened to Farrah Soudani, whose enormous medical costs were defrayed in part by donors from the website theCHIVE.com.
Soudani survived and was at the courthouse for the hearing, although not in the courtroom itself. Instead, she stayed in an overflow room where the proceedings were broadcast on a video monitor. The reason, according to her father, Sam Soudani, who did sit in the courtroom, was because "she does not want to see" Holmes.
After a long and difficult day of wrenching testimony, Sam Soudani was emotionally spent. "I don't know if I could come tomorrow," he said, referencing "the agony of sitting and watching."
Holmes did not appear to be especially engaged at today's hearing. There weren't any regular conversations between him and his counsel, for instance. But Tom Teves, whose son Alex Teves died at the Aurora Century 16, said at the hearing's conclusion that he thought Holmes's eyes lit up when prosecutors described what had taken place.
Teves subsequently called the accused shooter a "coward," but stressed that the testimony was "not about Holmes. It was about the police, who took care of those poor people."
Continue for more coverage of today's Aurora theater shooting preliminary hearing. Update, January 7, 2:46 p.m.: The first Aurora police officer to testify after the lunch break was Matthew Ingui, who interviewed many of the victims following the shooting.
Ingui said a number of those with whom he spoke talked about seeing flashes and hearing shots (some single, others rapid-fire) during the attack. One attendee also remembered a canister hitting the ground and a hissing noise, followed by a burning sensation of the sort associated with teargas.
Among those with whom Ingui spoke was a patron who had attended with Micayla Medek, one of twelve people to die in the assault. That person "heard Micayla state she had been shot and began coughing," Ingui testified.
Another witness told Ingui that the shooter, believed to be James Holmes, "was calm and moved with purpose," while a different person remembered "seeing blood on the walls." And the daughter of Gordon Cowdon, another person murdered at the theater, said she thought her dad had been shot in the back of the head.
At about 12:30 p.m. on July 20 -- approximately twelve hours after the attack -- Ingui personally entered the theater. Victims were still on the floor at that time, and that's not all. "There's shoes, there's body tissue, there's blood, there's popcorn," he said.
Additionally, Ingui used photographs of the theater's interior to point out in what rows each of the victims was found.
Also screened was surveillance video showing Holmes entering the theater and going to a kiosk, where he scanned his cell phone to retrieve a ticket he'd purchased on July 8, according to records for the device. He could then be seen giving the pass to the ticket taker, after which he hung out by the concession stand for several minutes without buying anything. After this delay, the footage showed him walking off camera in the direction of auditorium nine, where the main attack took place.
In this clip, Holmes is wearing black pants, a light-colored button-down shirt and a skull cap.
Other surveillance photo captured the main entrance of the theater as people ran out past box office personnel ducking under their desk.
Continue for more coverage of today's Aurora theater shooting preliminary hearing. Update, January 7, 12:52 p.m.: Two more officers testified about the events at the Century 16 in ways that were emotional for them and those in attendance, including many victims and loved ones.
First to speak was Officer Justin Grizzle. He arrived at the theater shortly after the first call went out, in time to see officers Jason Oviatt and Aaron Blue take suspect James Holmes into custody. He subsequently spoke to Holmes.
"I asked if there was anyone else helping him," Grizzle recalled. "He just looked at me and smiled" -- an expression he further described as resembling a smirk.
In the meantime, victims were rushing out of the theater. "They were screaming, 'Help us! Help us!'" he said. Many were covered in blood.
At that point, Grizzle entered the main auditorium of the theater -- and as he did so, he said, "I almost fell down" due to the amount of blood on the floor.
The aroma of teargas hung in the air, and he said "there were several bodies throughout the theater, laying motionless." Other victims were still alive, so he decided to start making trips to the hospital, transporting the injured in his patrol car. His reasoning was simple: "I didn't want anyone else to die," he said.
In all, Grizzle made four trips to the hospital, carrying a total of six victims. Among them was Ashley Moser, mother of the shooting's youngest victim, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age six. Ashley Moser suffered a miscarriage as a result of her wounds and is now paralyzed.
Also on hand was a man who told Grizzle he was Moser's husband. During the trip to the hospital, the man kept asking about the whereabouts of his daughter -- and en route, he opened the vehicle's door and tried to jump out. Grizzle was forced to wrestle the man back into the patrol car while driving.
Grizzle also transported Caleb Medley, a budding standup comedian who was in a coma for many weeks after the shooting. (His wife, Katie Medley, gave birth to their first child, a son named Hugo, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.) The officer said Medley suffered significant trauma to his face that made it difficult for him to breath. The effort of inhaling made a "godawful noise," but the absence of this sound was even worse. "I kept telling him, 'Don't fucking die on me! Don't fucking die on me!" Grizzle testified.
One other shocking comment from Grizzle. According to him, "There was so much blood, I could hear it sloshing in the back of my car."
As Grizzle spoke, he became emotional. He had to stop speaking several times and could be seen wiping his eyes. Many people in the audience made the same movements during his testimony, with several people embracing each other.
Katie and Hugo Medley.
The next person to speak was Aurora Police Sergeant Gerald Jonsgaard. He arrived at the scene within a minute or so, but rather than rushing straight to the theater, he headed for higher ground -- he was level with the theater roof -- and grabbed his rifle on the chance that he could see the shooter fleeing. Instead, he saw what he guessed was a member of a SWAT team, but instead turned out to be Holmes, who was taken into custody seconds later. He confirmed that Holmes didn't resist arrest.
With the suspect in the hands of fellow officers, Jonsgaard went inside the auditorium of the theater, where The Dark Knight Rises was still playing -- its soundtrack competing with a loud alarm. Just inside the exit, he saw an AR-15 rifle, several forty-round magazines and .223 rounds, plus a Remington shotgun. He then began searching for people in need of assistance and quickly found Veronica Moser-Sullivan. Unfortunately, she was beyond help. "I checked for a pulse. She was dead," he said.
Jonsgaard then asked another officer to take the little girl's body outside. He choked up as he recounted what happened next. "He told me later he thought he felt a pulse," the sergeant said. "But it was his own."
Eventually, Jonsgaard continued, the movie was silenced and officers pulled down the screen to make sure no one was hiding behind it. Then came the grim task of clearing victims from the theater. While doing so, he realized that the back door had been propped open about a quarter of an inch with what he described as a small piece of plastic resembling the items used to hold tablecloths on picnic tables. Later, he happened to see officers searching Holmes and noticed an identical plastic piece, suggesting that it had been on the suspect's person upon his arrest.
At this writing, the court is in recess for launch. Testimony is expected to begin again at 1:30 p.m.
Continue for earlier coverage of today's Aurora theater shooting preliminary hearing. Original post, January 7, 10:43 a.m.: Two Aurora police officers have testified this morning: Jason Oviatt and Aaron Blue. Oviatt spoke first, noting that he was on patrol a little after 12:30 a.m. on July 20 when he got a call about a shooting at the theater.
Officer Oviatt drove to the back of the theater, which was busy thanks to midnight screenings of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. There, he said, "I saw a trail of blood that led toward one of the theater exits."
The blood trail led Oviatt toward a person standing near a white car parked in the back of the theater. The man was later identified as James Holmes, but Oviatt testified that he initially thought he was a fellow officer. When he got closer, however, he realized Holmes was not a member of the police department because "he was just standing there."
The line for today's preliminary hearing.
Photo by Melanie Asmar
Eventually, Oviatt held Holmes at gunpoint, ordered him to the ground and began searching him. During this process, Oviatt said, "It was like there weren't normal emotional responses to anything.... He seemed very detached from it all."
He added that Holmes "was dripping with sweat" and his pupils were very big.
As Oviatt searched Holmes for weapons, Officer Blue arrived and began to assist. He asked Holmes if anyone else was with him, and the suspect said, "No." Blue then asked if Holmes had any other weapons. Holmes replied that he had four guns and no explosives, but he had an improvised explosive device at his house.
According to Oviatt, Blue then asked Holmes if the bombs at his residence were set to go off. "If you trip them," Holmes answered.
Victims of the shooting were everywhere, the officers testified. In the end, Officer Blue wound up using his patrol car to transport Jessica Ghawi, a radio intern for 104.3 The Fan and a budding sportscaster, to a nearby hospital. She died from her wounds.
Holmes is in court today. He's wearing a red jumpsuit and has bushy brown hair and a beard.
Also on hand are many victims, as well as family members of those who lost their lives in the shooting.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.