DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado judge ordered accused movie theater gunman James Holmes on Thursday to stand trial on charges he killed 12 people and wounded dozens more in a shooting rampage at a midnight screening of a Batman movie last summer.
Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester ruled that prosecutors had shown probable cause during a three-day preliminary hearing earlier this week that Holmes committed the crimes, and ordered him bound for trial on all counts.
He said Holmes, 25, described by his lawyers as suffering from an unspecified mental illness, should continue to be held without bail.
The former neuroscience doctoral student is charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 140 counts of attempted murder stemming from the July 20 rampage at the opening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
In addition to the 12 people who died, 58 others were wounded by gunfire and a dozen more suffered other injuries.
Prosecutors essentially charged Holmes twice for each victim - once for committing a crime “after deliberation” and again for “malice manifesting extreme indifference to human life.”
The prosecution has yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty. Legal experts have said they expect Holmes’ lawyers to mount an insanity defense, but his legal team said they would not be ready to enter a plea at the next court hearing set for Friday.
The rampage stands as one of the most lethal mass shootings in U.S. history and one that ranked briefly as the deadliest in 2012 - until 20 children and six adults were killed last month at a Connecticut elementary school.
After three days of emotionally wrenching prosecution testimony about the shooting, its bloody aftermath and the elaborate preparations Holmes is accused of making for the attack, there seemed little doubt he would be ordered to trial.
Holmes is accused of entering Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex with a ticket he bought 12 days in advance then leaving through a rear exit minutes into the movie and re-entering moments later wearing body armor and a gas mask.
Armed with a shotgun, pistol and semi-automatic rifle, he lobbed a tear gas canister into the auditorium and sprayed moviegoers with bullets until one of his guns jammed, then surrendered to police without a struggle in the parking lot behind the theater.
Police testified that Holmes began assembling his collection of guns and ammunition two months before the shooting, scouted out the multiplex weeks ahead of time, and took photos of his arsenal and of himself posed with weapons and body armor. In some of the close-ups, he wore black contact lenses that made his pupils appear abnormally large.
Holmes also had booby-trapped his apartment near the theater with explosives, which police said he intended as a diversion to draw authorities away from the movie house while he was carrying out his assault. The bombs were later defused safely. (Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)