CENTENNIAL, Colo.—For 48 minutes in Division 201 of the Arapaho County Justice Center, it seemed as if no one drew a breath.
James Holmes, facing 166 charges of murder and other terrible offenses, swiveled gently in his chair at the defense table as Katie Marie Medley explained slowly and haltingly what a shooting rampage does to a young family.
Medley was nine months pregnant when Holmes swathed himself in black protective gear, threw a tear gas canister into Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex and began to fire, killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 70 others. The theater had been packed for a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
July 19, 2012: “In the afternoon, me and my husband were together. We had a little apartment in Aurora. We were just watching TV. My husband, Caleb Medley, saw the commercial for the new Batman movie. ... His eyes lit up.”
July 20, 2012: “I had to save my unborn child. I thought Caleb was going to die. It was my last piece of him. He squeezed my hand. I told him I loved him and I would take care of our baby if he didn’t make it.”
Medley made her way to the exit door, jumping over bodies, her flip flops slipping in blood. She did not get to the hospital, she said, until her husband was in his second brain surgery. Caleb was in a medically induced coma when he held his newborn son for the first time.
The first witnesses called to testify in the months-long trial that will decide Holmes’ fate talked Tuesday about terror and despair, blood and bodies, death and birth. Their stories, punctuated by tears and accompanied by graphic photos brought the massacre to horrible life.
Derick Arthur Spruel talked about going to see “The Dark Knight Rises” with his wife and two co-workers from Buckley Air Force Base. One of them, his close friend Jesse Childress, had bought the tickets and talked the group into going.
“After the AR was being fired, I identified it as an auto rifle,” Spruel said. “I got scared. I started praying. I remember Jesse getting up. I seen him jolt, then he went towards me and fell.”
He thought the shooter would make his way back and shoot them all. He thought that he was going to die. He yelled, “Jesse, Jesse!” He shook his friend, the man he had cracked jokes with for the last two years. Childress did not respond.
“I could not pick him up,” Spruel told the court. “I wanted to take him with us ... I had to leave Jesse.”
Munirich Fatimih Gravelly remembers lying on the ground between two rows of seats, her face resting on something sticky. She remembers watching the shooter’s feet as he walked the aisles of Theater 9 and the shotgun pellets that hit her left hand, nicked her arms, embedded in her scalp.
“It was a pool of blood my face was in,” Gravelly said Tuesday, describing her desperate minutes on the theater floor. “I thought it was soda, but it was blood. Somebody else’s.”
Chichi Spruel dialed 911 as the shooting unfolded. Her frantic call, screams in the background, was played for the jury.
“Please,” she begged the dispatcher, “come get us out of here.
More witness testimony is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, jurors listened to four hours of mostly riveting opening statements by attorneys.
No witness list has been issued publicly, but several people who were in the Century 16 theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora on that terrifying July night have indicated that they will be early in the order.
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Joshua Nowlan, who was shot through his right arm and left leg told the Los Angeles Times that he is scheduled to testify on Tuesday. Nowlan has had multiple surgeries. He has sued the theater’s parent company.
Julia Vojtsek, whose boyfriend James Larimer was killed trying to protect her from gunfire, has said she expects to testify sometime between late May and mid-June.
And Marcus Weaver, 44, said he expects to testify soon. After taking the witness stand, he said Monday, “I can start moving ahead.” Weaver was shot in the shoulder. His friend, 32-year-old Rebecca Ann Wingo, died beside him. He watched Day 1 of the trial in a courthouse overflow room along with other victims and loved ones.
“I shed some tears,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll shed some more. But justice will be served.”
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On Monday, though, the attorneys took full advantage of the opportunity to lay out what the jurors can expect to hear in the months ahead and begin the fight over Holmes’ future.
Among the highlights:
—Arapahoe County District Attorney George H. Brauchler stood, faced the 12 jurors and 12 alternates and flashed a photograph of the theater’s back door on the flat-screen monitors that hang in Judge Carlos A. Samour’s courtroom.
“Through this door is horror,” he began. “Through this door are bullets, blood, brains and bodies. Through this door, one guy felt he had lost his career, lost his love-life, lost his purpose.”
Before playing the first 911 call, noisy with gun blasts, Brauchler continued, “400 people filed into a box-like theater to be entertained, and one came to slaughter them.”
—Holmes “tried to murder a theater full of people to make himself feel better,” said Brauchler, who spent much of his time trying to make the victims real to the 19 women and five men on the panel.
“He made so many victims that if I were to stand here and talk one minute about each, I’d be here for about an hour and a half, and I can’t do that. Before this case is over, you will hear from or about every one of them.”
—Public defender Daniel King spent much of his opening statement trying to explain to the jury the insidious power of mental illness and its hold on Holmes’ mind and life.
Holmes, King said, “was not in control of his thoughts or his actions or what he perceived to be reality. By the time Mr. Holmes stepped into that theater, he was so skewed ... he no longer lived in the real world. But to him, it was real.”
—“He was pursued,” King said of his client, who sat impassive at the defense table. “He was commanded. He was compelled.
“Compelled by psychotic delusions that controlled him and told him he had to do this action. Commanded by intrusive thoughts ... that came into his brain, telling him to kill, since he was a sophomore in high school.
“Through his psychosis, he felt he was possessed. This was not the conscious choice of a rational mind.”
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