Delay in plea by ‘Batman’ suspect upsets survivors


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - Page 7

An emotional outburst by the father of a woman killed in the Colorado theater shootings capped a week of often gruesome testimony that ended with a judge giving the defendant two months to enter a plea.

Steve Hernandez, whose 32-year-old daughter Rebecca Wingo was among those killed in the July 20 shooting, loudly cursed James Holmes on Friday, prompting a sympathetic, but firm warning from a judge.

“Rot in hell, Holmes,” Hernandez shouted.

The court hearing came as the US debates gun control and struggles to find ways to stop mass shootings following the latest such incident — last month’s massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut.

In Washington, US Vice President Joe Biden met with the stepfather of one of the Colorado shooting victims as part of a push for gun control by the White House.

In Denver, Governor John Hickenlooper has called for new measures to keep guns away from mentally ill and dangerous people.

Despite the procedural wrangling in the theater shooting case, there may be few options for Holmes. If, as many anticipate, he enters a plea of not guilty by insanity, he would undergo lengthy evaluations at a state mental hospital before trial.

If the case goes to trial and he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes could conceivably be released from a mental hospital someday if he is deemed to have recovered, but that is considered unlikely.

A guilty plea or conviction could mean life in prison or the death penalty.

Holmes, 25, was ordered late on Thursday to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder after two-and-a-half days of testimony from police and federal agents who provided excruciating details about the attack.

Judge William Sylvester called Holmes back to court on Friday for an arraignment hearing to enter a plea, but defense attorneys requested the delay, saying they would not be ready to do that until March.

That prompted a murmur of disbelief among about 40 survivors and family members of the victims in the gallery.

Sylvester granted the delay, saying he wanted to avoid giving the defense any opening to later appeal the case. Defense attorneys did not give a reason for requesting the delay in entering a plea, but prosecutors suggested to Sylvester that his lawyers might want time to build an insanity defense.