Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against the man accused in last year’s cinema attack that killed 12, wounded 70, and spurred new gun control laws in Colorado.
The much-anticipated disclosure came in a court hearing held four days after prosecutors rejected an offer by James Holmes’s lawyers that the former neuroscience graduate student would plead guilty to avoid execution.
Prosecutors had said the defence proposal was not a valid plea bargain offer, although they could still agree to a plea before the case goes to trial.
“It’s my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes justice is death,” Arapahoe county district attorney George Brauchler said at a hearing.
There was no audible reaction from Holmes, who sat in court with his back to reporters.
His attorneys are expected to argue he is not guilty because he was legally insane at the time of the Jul 20 shooting. They balked at entering the plea last month, saying they could not make such a move until prosecutors made a formal decision on the death penalty.
Investigators say Holmes methodically stockpiled weapons and ammunition for his assault on a packed midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and booby-trapped his apartment to explode and distract any police who responded.
The massacre was cited repeatedly by gun control advocates who pushed a hotly-contested package through the Colorado state Legislature last month.
The bills include a ban on the sort of high-capacity magazines Holmes allegedly used to spray the cinema with dozens of bullets in a matter of seconds.
As the case returns to court, survivors and families of the victims are uncertain about what happens next.
If the case goes to trial, “all of us victims would be dragged along potentially for years”, said Pierce O’Farrill, who was shot three times. “It could be 10 or 15 years before he’s executed.”
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