CENTENNIAL, Colo. (USATODAY.com) -- Arapahoe County prosecutors on Monday began laying out evidence against mass murder suspect James Holmes, with a series of Aurora police officers, detectives and forensics experts providing gripping and often emotional testimony about the mayhem they encountered at a suburban Denver movie theater where Holmes is alleged to have killed 12 and wounded 57 on July 20.
The first of a five-day preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Holmes on more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder charges prompted Aurora police officer Justin Grizzle to choke up on the witness stand. Grizzle, who took six shooting victims to the hospital on four separate runs, says there was so much blood from victims, "I could hear it sloshing around in the back of my patrol car."
On another trip, Grizzle testified that he told Caleb Medley, who was shot in the eye and sustained brain damage, "Don't die on me, don't die on me,'' as he rushed him to the hospital.
A handcuffed Holmes, sporting dark hair and a full beard -- a sharp contrast to the unkempt, orange-dyed hair he sported following his arrest -- sat impassively throughout the often emotionally wrought hearing, while some victims' relatives and even reporters were moved to tears as a half-dozen Aurora police officers described the blood-stained theater, a parking lot filled with panicked witnesses and their efforts to rush wounded victims to hospitals.
Holmes, a 24-year-old University of Colorado doctoral program candidate who dropped out after failing a June oral exam, looked straight at witnesses during most of the proceedings, barely glancing at photos of the movie theater -- which included markers designating the murder victims -- a few feet to his right.
Holmes' public defenders, who have previously said that Holmes is mentally ill, again telegraphed a possible insanity defense on cross-examination of Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen, who said while he examined six of the deceased, he could not conclude whether they were killed by someone who was mentally ill.
Aurora Police Detective Matthew Ingui earlier narrated surveillance video taken by two dozen cameras at the Aurora Century 16 theaters, which showed Holmes, wearing a T-shirt, skull cap and baggy pants, entering the theater shortly after midnight and calmly wandering around the concession stand. Cellphone records showed that he purchased a ticket to the July 20 midnight premiere for The Dark Knight Rises on July 8.
It is believed that after Holmes arrived at 12:03 a.m., he soon exited the rear of the 415-seat theater through an emergency exit, went to his car in a rear parking lot and donned protective police gear, helmet and gas mask. He then took an assault rifle, handguns and a shotgun, re-entered the theater and began his shooting spree at about 12:35 a.m.
Aurora police officer Jason Oviatt arrested Holmes a few minutes later, after finding him outside, standing with his hands on top of his car. Oviatt said Holmes was "completely compliant" when told to surrender. Oviatt, though, said that when he first spotted Holmes, he thought he was a fellow officer because he was dressed in full body armor and wore a gas mask and helmet.
"He was just standing there not doing anything, not urgent about anything," Oviatt testified. Police seized a semiautomatic handgun with a laser sight, a semiautomatic shotgun and an AR-15 military assault rifle equipped with a 100-round magazine drum from the scene.
On Monday, the officers testified that they later found more than 200 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and 15 rounds of .40-caliber bullets.
The testimony was wrenching for victims such as Farrah Soudari, 23, who watched from an adjacent hearing room with her father, Sam Soudari. Farrah Soudari, who was at the movie with several other Red Robin restaurant workers, lost a kidney and spleen and suffered stomach damage. She underwent four surgeries and will need at least one more to repair her leg.
"She doesn't want to see him," her father said, wiping away tears as the testimony continued. "Part of me wants to rip his head off," he said. "But you see him sitting there and just seems lifeless."
Oviatt testified that he ordered Holmes onto the ground, handcuffed him and then dragged him a few feet away from the white sedan so he could safely search him for weapons.
Holmes, he said, didn't resist, "not in the slightest. He was completely compliant."
As he was pulling Holmes, a handgun magazine fell out of Holmes' pocket. He also found a knife in his belt and another knife in his pocket.
Aaron Blue, a fellow officer, testified that he took out a knife and cut away Holmes' protective gear to search for other weapons. Blue said he asked Holmes whether he had any explosives, and Holmes told him that he had improvised devices at his apartment that would go off if they were triggered.
Blue said once they got Holmes into the back of a police car, he became fidgety, was sweating profusely and reeked of body odor.
Ingui testified that almost all the murder victims were in rows 8 through 18 of the theater. He added that eyewitnesses told him the shooter moved in a calm, deliberate manner as he sprayed rounds from an assault-style weapon.
The attack ranks among the largest mass shootings in U.S. history but has been overshadowed lately by the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students and six school employees.
And Saturday morning, just 4 miles from the complex where the July shooting spree took place, four people were killed, including the suspected gunman, after a six-hour standoff at a town home.
Until Monday, a court-imposed gag order had kept much of the Holmes case under wraps, preventing prosecutors, police and officials at the University of Colorado from discussing it.
In the weeks leading up to the shootings, police say, Holmes used the Internet to stockpile weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, and acquire improvised explosive devices that he rigged to explode in his apartment.
At earlier hearings, Lynne Fenton, a university psychiatrist, said she had treated Holmes more than a month before the shootings but had no contact with him after June 11, when she reported concerns to campus police.
San Antonio resident Sandy Phillips' 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was among those killed in the Aurora theater. On the morning of the Newtown massacre, Sandy and Jessica's stepfather, Lonnie, were boarding a plane for Denver to accept an honorary degree on Jessica's behalf from Metropolitan State University, where she had been studying to pursue a career as a sportscaster.
"We were shaking and sobbing and crying in the back of the plane,'' Sandy Phillips says. "You go right back to the day you lost your loved one. It takes you back to your own grief and doubles it.''
She won't be at this week's hearing. "I'm not strong enough to go through this right now," she says. "It's much too hard.''
Jerri Jackson, whose 27-year-old son, Matt McQuinn, was killed as he shielded girlfriend Samantha Yowler, won't attend, either. "I know it's part of the process -- but I can't do it. I do think there is enough evidence to put him on trial."