The defense in the trial of James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the July 12, 2012, rampage at an Aurora, Colo., theater, is not contesting that he is the shooter.
But until Wednesday, the witnesses describing the horrific scene have done so without identifying Holmes, sitting at the defense table. That is because the shooter was wearing what looked like a SWAT team outfit.
On the witness stand, Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard of the Aurora Police Department described going to the back of the theater and spotting someone standing next to a white car.
“I thought, ‘How did the SWAT guy get here so quick?'” he said. There was a rifle next to the suspect, and Jonsgaard said that other officers approached him. Asked if he could identify the shooter again, Jonsgaard pointed to Holmes, wearing glasses and his hair colored brown, at the defense table. On the night he was arrested, his hair was colored orange. Officers arrested him and stripped him of his body armor.
In questions submitted by the jury, Jonsgaard was asked what the suspect’s demeanor was as he was being arrested. “It wasn’t aggressive. It wasn’t yelling. It wasn’t screaming,” he said. Instead, the suspect was “fairly wide-eyed.”
Holmes’ demeanor that night is expected to be a significant factor for the jury, as the defense has entered a plea of not guilty for reason of insanity.
The trial began on Monday in Arapahoe County Court.
Later in the morning, witness Joshua Nowlan, who suffered serious wounds to his left calf and right forearm, was asked by the prosecution to use his cane to mimic how the shooter held his weapon. “He was pointing down to the ground” as if he was “looking for other people,” Nowlan said.
“He was definitely moving slowly,” he added. “He was actually trying to search for people in the rows.” Defense attorneys objected to that part of his testimony on the grounds that Nowlan’s view was obstructed and he was asked to infer what was happening, but the judge overruled it.
He said that “it seemed like forever” before authorities arrived at the theater. “The Dark Knight Rises” was still screening, but the last thing that Nowlan remembered was a scene where Catwoman is trying to steal a necklace out of the safe.
As he was lying on his back in the row, he “looked behind me and there was a body. I could tell he was still alive but he was having a very hard time. I was screaming at him, ‘Stay with me. Stay with me.’ Because it looks like in a matter of minutes he could be gone.”
When the first police officer arrived, Nowlan said, he asked that they treat the man first because “he is worse than me.” As he left, he recalled seeing and hearing “just a lot of blood and bodies and screams.”
When he was put in a police car to head to the hospital, and an officer yelled for the driver to “Go!,” Nowlan actually yelled for them to wait. He was trying to buckle his seat belt.
“The officer looks at me and says, ‘I am not going to give you a ticket.'”
Update: Marcus Weaver was at the movie with Rebecca Wingo, who died in the shooting rampage.
Like other witnesses, he described a “festive” atmosphere at the multiplex, with some people dressed up in Batman costumes. Sitting about five rows up in the middle, he noticed what looked like someone setting off a smoke bomb on the bottom row.
“A person came out on the right side. It seemed like there were two shots fired at the roof and part of the roof came down.” Then, he described hearing a “thunderous noise” and white flashes. It was then that you “could see the silhouette of the shooter,” wearing what looked to be like a helmet.
By about the 10th shot he got Wingo down from her seat and took cover in the row. He could see the shooter through the crack in the seat.
“You could hear [the shots] hitting objects, whizzing by your heads,” he said.
Wingo wasn’t moving, he said, and, during a lull in the shooting, he tried to pick her up he fell over. The shooter started firing again, in what sounded like a different type of gun. People were scrambling to get out of the theater. Unable to pick Wingo up, he decided to try to get out and get help. The gunman was still shooting as he exited.
It was just outside that a girl came up to him and said, “your arm is bleeding.” It was then that he saw two bullet holes.
He estimated that it was 10 to 15 minutes from the time the shooting started to the time he got out.
“It was going so slow it seemed to be an eternity,” he said.
Bernd Hoefler, a lieutenant with the Aurora Fire Department, testified of a gruesome scene of victims as he entered the theater. He and a colleague were searching for survivors, but there counted 10 bodies. That included a man who was still warm, but otherwise showed no signs of life.
“I wanted to work him. I wanted to save him.”
One of the victims looked like he had been trampled, Hoefler said.
“I can close my eyes and see the picture of the theater,” Hoefler said, his voice shaking.
Holmes, in a white button down shirt, briefly swung back and forth in his chair as Hoefler spoke.