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Judge enters not guilty plea for James Holmes

1:05 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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Accused movie theater shooter James Holmes makes his first court appearance at the Arapahoe County on July 23, 2012 in Centennial, Colorado. (RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The judge in the deadly Colorado shooting case has entered a not guilty on behalf of James Holmes after his lawyer said he's not ready to enter a plea.

The judge says Holmes can change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity later, if he chooses.

If convicted, Holmes could be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. Twelve people were killed and 70 wounded in the July 20 attack on moviegoers in Aurora.

In the nearly eight months since James Holmes first shuffled into court with vacant eyes and reddish-orange hair, neither he nor his lawyers have said much about how he would plead to charges from the deadly Colorado movie theater shooting.

There have been plenty of hints, however. As his hair turned more natural-looking and his demeanor more even at court hearings, Holmes' lawyers repeatedly raised questions about his mental health, including a recent revelation that he was held in a psychiatric ward for several days last fall, often in restraints, because he was considered a danger to himself.

Prosecutors laid out a case that Holmes methodically planned the shooting for months, amassing an arsenal and elaborately booby-trapping his apartment to kill anyone who tried to enter. On the night of the attack, they say, he donned a police-style helmet, gas mask and body armor, tossed a gas canister into the seats and then opened fire.

"This is not a whodunit," criminal defense attorney Dan Recht said in January. He is not involved in the case.

Holmes is charged with 166 counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 assault on moviegoers at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, a Denver suburb.

If a jury agrees he was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. There would be a remote and unlikely chance he could be freed one day if doctors find his sanity has been restored.

"You heard the evidence they have. There is no doubt that he knew what he was doing was wrong, there's no doubt it was premeditated," said Tom Teves of Phoenix, whose 24-year-old son, Alex, died in the theater while shielding his girlfriend. "There's no doubt he did it. Zero. So why are we playing a lot of games?"

Holmes could still be convicted and sentenced to execution or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have 60 days after the plea to say whether they will seek the death penalty.

(Copyright © 2013, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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