Jury gets a look at Aurora theater shooter police interview tape

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CENTENNIAL | Sounding dazed in the hours after his arrest, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes asked detectives, “There weren’t any children hurt, were there?”

Holmes asked the question in a video played for jurors Monday, which showed two detectives interviewing him at the Aurora Police Department about two hours after the July 2012 attack, which killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

Det. Chuck Mehl testified later that Holmes had seen a sign in the police department that said “Crimes Against Children Unit,” which might have prompted the question.

Detectives didn’t answer Holmes’ question directly but said, “We’ll get to that.”

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 166 counts including murder and attempted murder. His attorneys acknowledge he was the shooter but say schizophrenia had so distorted his mind that he could not tell right from wrong.

Prosecutors say Holmes was sane and are asking jurors to convict him and sentence him to death.

In the video, Holmes is wearing a torn shirt, undershorts and fiery orange hair. His voice is thick and groggy.

Asked if he needs anything, he says, “Oxygen.” The detectives ask if he is having trouble breathing or wants a fan, but he says no.

When asked how to spell “Holmes,” he answers, “Like Sherlock.”

Mehl testified that Holmes at one point pulled an empty paper cup to the edge of the table where he was sitting and tried to flip it onto a water bottle, like game of ring toss. That wasn’t on the clip shown in the courtroom.

A brief clip of Holmes in the interview room had been played for jurors during opening statements on April 27, but this was the first time his conversation with the detectives was shown in court.

Mehl offered no explanation for Holmes’ behavior, and neither side asked him about it.

Earlier Monday, a volunteer supervisor at a gun range testified that a man with bright orange hair who showed up at the facility in the summer of 2012 was such an odd sight that he and another supervisor went to talk to him.

The volunteer, Theodore Maples Jr., didn’t say who the man was, but the reddish-orange hair and weapons he fired matched descriptions of Holmes and his arsenal.

“That really flagged us,” Maples said of the man’s hair.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. didn’t allow Maples to recount the conversation after the defense objected to a prosecution question about what was said.

Jurors also heard from Glenn Rotkovich who runs the Lead Valley gun range east of the metro area. That gun range is at least an hour closer to Holmes’ apartment than the range in northwest Colorado, but Rotkovich said Holmes never joined.

Holmes emailed an application but never followed up, which Rotkovich said was bizarre considering the dearth of gun ranges on the Front Range. Rotkovich said Holmes’ voicemail sounded so strange he told his staff he wanted to speak to Holmes before he was allowed to join. But Holmes never called back, he said.

After the testimony about the shooting ranges, theater shooting victim Adan Avilia-Arredondo was asked to show the jury the amputated leg he lost after Holmes shot him during the attack. The defense objected to the request, but Samour  allowed it. Jury members leaned in to get a look at it.

Earlier Monday, prosecutors played a recording of a call from Holmes’ cellphone to the University of Colorado hospital switchboard moments before the attack. An operator answered, but the caller didn’t respond.

Holmes had been a student at the university and was treated by a university psychiatrist before the shootings.

Testimony was much more sedate than emotional victim and rescuer accounts last week, today being  mostly technical.

Defense attorney Katherine Spengler said the call made from Holmes’ phone was to a hospital hotline. But Kelly O’Connor, the hospital’s director of information technology, testified it was made to the main number.

A recording played during court included an operator answering but no response from the caller.

Court broke early in the morning, and for extra time to accommodate a juror with a broken tooth, allowing for three hours.

During arguments when the jury was out of the courtroom Holmes’ defense team continued to protest that there was too much testimony about victims’ injuries. Because the defense has admitted Holmes was the gunman that night, public defender Kristen Nelson said there should be limits on how much graphic detail the prosecution can solicit.

The prosecution objected, arguing that they need to prove their case and different witnesses can have very different recollections about the same events.

Samour has generally sided with the prosecution regarding testimony about injuries, but has limited what some victims can say. When one victim last week said he was depressed after the shooting, Samour stopped him and said the testimony should be limited to the physical injuries caused that night. Samour said he will take the same approach going forward. 

Samour gave jurors an almost 3-hour lunch break Monday so one juror who broke her tooth over the weekend could go to a dentist.

Testimony is set to continue Tuesday and will likely include talk about Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment. Prosecutors said they plan to call the federal agent who helped defuse the bombs. The defense said they will object to a transcript of an interview between the agent and Holmes being shown to the jury. Spengler said the transcript, written by the agent, could unfairly prejudice the jury.

Samour said he will review the transcript and make a decision first thing Tuesday. 

— Aurora Sentinel reporter Brandon Johansson contributed to this story