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At Hearing, Police Recall Details of Horror at Colorado Movie Theater

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The movie theater was a blood-soaked nightmare that night in July. Wounded moviegoers screamed for help and tried to crawl for the exits. Bodies lay in the aisles. The floor was a carpet of shell casings, the air stung with the smell of tear gas, and dozens of abandoned cellphones bleated incessantly.

But outside, James E. Holmes stood with eerie calm, his head hidden behind a gas mask and helmet, his hands resting on the roof of his car. He was, police officers recalled here in court on Monday, detached from the chaos he had created moments before. He was sweating heavily underneath a sheath of black body armor. He smelled foul.

He was very, very relaxed,” said Officer Jason Oviatt of the Aurora Police Department, who apprehended Mr. Holmes behind the theater minutes after the shooting. “It was like there weren’t normal emotional responses. He seemed very detached from it all (Mind controlled).”

A detective who interviewed James Holmes in the hours after the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., testified he saw no reason to obtain a search warrant to test the suspect for possible drug use, despite some unusual behavior from Holmes at police headquarters.

“I saw no indications that he was under the influence of anything,” said Detective Craig Appel during a preliminary hearing for Holmes on Tuesday.

Under cross examination, Appel admitted that one of the officers guarding Holmes in a room at police headquarters saw the suspect try to stick a staple into an electric socket while waiting to be interviewed. In another incident, the same officer saw Holmes moving his hands in a talking puppet motion” after they were covered by paper bags for evidence reasons.

It was also revealed that Holmes was playing with a Styrofoam cup while at a table, Appel said: “He was just trying to flip the cup on the table.”

Officer Oviatt was one of six police officers to testify here on the first day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Mr. Holmes, 25, for killing 12 people and wounding dozens more inside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb. An Arapahoe County district judge, William B. Sylvester, will make that decision.

Mr. Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder.

For victims and their families, the hearing may offer the best, and perhaps only, opportunity to understand how the July 20 shooting unfolded, and to get a glimpse of Mr. Holmes’s actions and mind-set in the weeks and minutes before the attack. A criminal trial — if one ever convenes — remains months away, probably at the end of a long series of legal arguments, including over Mr. Holmes’s mental fitness to stand trial.

On Monday, some of the first police officers at the scene drew a grim and detailed picture of the moments before, during and after the mass shooting, the deadliest in Colorado since a 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.

And for the first time in public, police officers gave a moment-by-moment account of arresting Mr. Holmes, a once-promising student from Southern California who moved here to study neuroscience.

Officer Oviatt said he stumbled upon Mr. Holmes behind the theater, at first believing that the tall, thin man in the gas mask and commando gear was a police officer. He quickly realized he was mistaken, and said he aimed his gun at Mr. Holmes and ordered him to the ground.

As sirens wailed and bloodied, terrified moviegoers streamed out of a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Officer Oviatt said that Mr. Holmes made no attempt to run, to confront the police or to resist them. He raised his hands when ordered to by another officer, lay prone on the ground and glanced around at the lights and sounds piercing the night.

He just did what he was told,” Officer Oviatt said. “No resistance.”

Fearing there could be other gunmen lurking, Officer Oviatt said he dragged Mr. Holmes into an alcove for trash bins and patted him down, searching for other weapons. The police would find an assault rifle just outside the emergency exit door of Theater 9, and a shotgun inside.

After the police removed layers of Mr. Holmes’s body armor, stripping him to his boxer shorts, they found his wallet and driver’s license and asked whether he lived at the listed address. Mr. Holmes said he did, and then told them he had booby-trapped his apartment with explosives.

Daniel King, a public defender for Mr. Holmes, homed in on observations from the police about Mr. Holmes’s behavior that night. He called attention to the fact that Mr. Holmes was so relaxed and disconnected from his surrounding, and that his eyes were dilated.

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James Holmes, the gunman who massacred 12 people and left 58 others wounded in Aurora, Colorado last July 20, has decided he is now a Muslim so he can justify his barbarous assault. One prison source said, “He has brainwashed himself into believing he was on his own personal jihad and that his victims were infidels.” (DELTA programming)

Mr. Holmes’s lawyers have signaled they may call witnesses this week to discuss his mental state. Although Mr. Holmes has not yet filed a plea, his lawyers have said several times that he is mentally ill. Mr. Holmes had seen a psychologist at the University of Colorado, Denver, where he had been a graduate student.

Less than a month before the shooting, after he had dropped out of his neuroscience program, Mr. Holmes sent a text message to a classmate that suggested he believed that he suffered from dysphoric mania, a bipolar condition that combines manic behavior and dark, depressive tendencies. Mr. Holmes warned the classmate to stay away from him “because I am bad news,” the classmate has said.

On Monday, for the first time, the final placid moments before the shooting came to life in video images captured by the theater’s security cameras. As excited teenagers high-five one another and buy popcorn, Mr. Holmes walks into the Century 16 theater, holding the door open for an arriving couple. He retrieves his ticket by scanning his smartphone, dawdles at the popcorn counter for a few moments, and then heads toward Theater 9.

In the next silent video played by prosecutors, theater employees suddenly crane their heads toward something off-screen. Gunshots. They duck behind the ticket counter. Frantic moviegoers fill the screen, racing through the front door and into the night.