Delay in plea by Holmes disturbs victims, families

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 11, 2013 at 5:27 pm •  Published: January 11, 2013
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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — A stunned silence settled over a courtroom Friday after the father of a woman killed in the Colorado theater shootings loudly cursed defendant James Holmes, prompting a sympathetic but firm warning from a judge.

Steve Hernandez, whose 32-year-old daughter Rebecca Wingo was among the dead, shouted, "Rot in hell, Holmes!" moments after Judge William Sylvester gave Holmes two months to enter a plea.

The outburst capped an emotional week of often gruesome testimony about the July 20 shootings and came as the nation debates gun control and struggles to find ways to stop mass shootings.

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden met with the stepfather of one of the Aurora victims as part of a push for gun control by the White House.

In Denver, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has called for new measures to keep guns away from mentally ill and dangerous people.

Despite the procedural wrangling in the theater shooting case, there may be few options for Holmes. If, as many anticipate, he enters a plea of not guilty by insanity, he would undergo lengthy evaluations at a state mental hospital before trial.

If the case goes to trial and he's found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes could conceivably be released from a mental hospital someday if he is deemed to have recovered, but that is considered an unlikely possibility.

A guilty plea or conviction could mean life in prison or the death penalty.

Holmes, 25, was ordered late Thursday to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder after 2 1/2 days of testimony from police and federal agents who provided excruciating details about the attack.

Sylvester called Holmes back to court on Friday for an arraignment hearing to enter a plea, but defense attorneys requested the delay, saying they would not be ready to do that until March.

That prompted a murmur of disbelief among about 40 survivors and family members of the victims in the gallery.

Sylvester granted the delay, saying he wanted to avoid giving the defense any opening to later appeal the case. Immediately after Sylvester adjourned the hearing, Hernandez shouted at Holmes. Deputies took Hernandez aside and Sylvester reconvened the proceedings.

"I'm terribly sorry for your loss and I can only begin to imagine the emotions that are raging," Sylvester told Hernandez, saying he could watch the proceedings by video if he could not contain himself.

Hernandez apologized and promised to remain silent at future hearings.

Sylvester then addressed other onlookers in the courtroom.

"I really, really do not want to have any outbursts," he said.

Holmes is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the killing of 12 people and injuring of 70 others during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

Defense attorneys did not give a reason for requesting the delay in entering a plea, but prosecutors suggested to Sylvester that his lawyers might want time to build an insanity defense.

The case now moves to a new phase dealing less with the bloody details of the shooting and more about what went on inside Holmes' head. His attorneys have said he has a mental illness, and it is widely expected they will argue he is not guilty by reason of insanity.

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