CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Katie Medley, nine months pregnant and crouching between the seats of a movie theater filling with tear gas, gunfire and screams, looked at her husband Caleb's bloody face and told a friend, "He's dead, he's dead."
Prodeo Et Patria was 14 that night and sitting with his parents somewhere in the middle of the 421 people watching the midnight premiere of a Batman movie. He thought the gunfire was a joke until his father ordered him to the floor, where someone kicked off his glasses in the chaos.
His father told him to run and carried his bleeding mother on his back toward an exit. "That's when I first felt a gunshot hit me," Patria said.
They were among the first of many prosecution witnesses in the death-penalty trial of James Holmes in a mass shooting inside a suburban Denver theater on July 20, 2012.
The defense team has conceded that Holmes was the killer, hoping to focus not on the crime itself or its lingering damage but on what it sees as the only question jurors must resolve: whether Holmes was legally insane at the time. Holmes has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. His defense hopes the jury will have him indefinitely committed to a mental institution.
Judge Carlos Samour Jr. warned jurors as the trial opened not to let sympathy and emotion influence their judgment.
Defense attorney Katherine Spengler argued that grisly photos, a 911 recording of shrieks and screams, and the words "bloody victim" that a witness wrote on a diagram of the theater served only to inflame the jury. The judge dismissed her motions, reasoning that the evidence is relevant and fairly depicts a horrific crime.
Prosecutors said they will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes was sane, therefore guilty, and should be executed for the deaths. The trial is expected to last four months or more.
Perhaps the most riveting testimony Tuesday was also the shortest so far. It came from Caleb Medley, an aspiring comedian who lost an eye and was left unable to walk and barely able to speak after Holmes fired a bullet into his brain.
Prosecutors asked him only two questions: Was he married to Katie? Was he at the theater that night?
From a wheelchair, he answered the first with a breathy, grunted "Yeah."
To the second, he tapped out his answer on a poster board with the letters of the alphabet: Y, E, S.
His wife filled in the rest of their story, recalling her desperation between the seats before she decided to make a break for it to try to save their baby. She said she took her husband's hand and felt him squeeze hers back, thinking she'd never again see him alive.
"I told him that I loved him and that I would take care of our baby if he didn't make it," she said.
She later gave birth to a healthy son, now 3, as Caleb underwent his third brain surgery in the same hospital.
Robert and Arlene Holmes, sitting two rows behind their son, had no visible reaction to the descriptions of slaughter. Neither did James Holmes, who stared directly ahead.
Defense attorneys did not question any of the witnesses from the theater, perhaps signaling a strategy not to prolong their emotional testimony.
In opening statements, the defense sought to focus on what was going on inside Holmes' mind, which they say was so addled by schizophrenia and psychosis that his sense of right and wrong was distorted, and he lost any control over his actions.
They won't call their own witnesses or begin making the case for insanity until after the prosecution rests, many weeks from now.
Defense lawyers said Holmes was a "good kid" who sensed something wrong with his mind, even at a young age. Studying neuroscience at the University of Colorado was his attempt to fix his thoughts, they said. Instead, "psychosis bloomed" when he failed in the doctoral program, and delusions then commanded him to kill, they said.
But District Attorney George Brauchler described Holmes as a frighteningly intelligent killer who meticulously planned and carried out the mass murder to make himself feel good and be remembered, all the while knowing that it was immoral and illegal.
Brauchler said two court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Holmes in custody decided that he was sane during the attack.
Public Defender Daniel King countered that Holmes was psychotic at the time and that every doctor who has seen him -- 20 in all -- agreed he suffers from schizophrenia.
A Section on 04/29/2015
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