Survivors of theater shooting begin testifying |

Survivors of theater shooting begin testifying

Sadie Gurman and Dan Elliott
The Associated Press
Araphaoe County, colo., Sheriffs Department deputies, at back, escort attendees out of the courthouse at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Katie Medley was nine months pregnant, so she picked a seat near the exit door, just in case she went into labor when her husband and a friend took her to see the “Batman” premiere nearly three years ago.

She saw the man in combat gear slip through the door and toss a can through the air, filling the theater with tear gas as he fired at the audience. She dropped to the floor, squeezing with her belly between the chairs, and couldn’t understand why her husband was still sitting upright.

Then she saw he had been shot through the eye, his face was gushing blood. She had to decide: stay with him, or flee in hope of saving their unborn son?

Medley, the first witness called as testimony began Tuesday in the death penalty trial of James Holmes, said she took the hand of her husband and felt him squeeze hers back.

“I told him that I loved him and that I would take care of our baby if he didn’t make it,” said Medley, who gave birth to a healthy son, now 3, as Caleb underwent brain surgery in the same hospital.

Caleb, an aspiring comedian, survived with terrible injuries. His speech is barely intelligible, and he was pushed to the witness stand in a wheelchair. He answered questions Tuesday by pointing to letters on a poster board for a court interpreter.

Defense attorneys said Holmes has “essentially admitted” killing 12 people and injuring 70 more, so there’s no reason to make survivors relive their horror in the courtroom for months on end.

Instead, they want to focus on what was going on inside his mind, which they say was so addled by schizophrenia that his sense of right and wrong was distorted, and he lost control over his actions.

Perhaps signaling a strategy they’ll use with many other victims whose lives were turned inside out by the shooting, the defense had no questions for the Medleys.

And Katie Medley kept her composure, even as her husband’s injuries were put on display. But she sobbed as she returned to her seat in the courtroom, comforted by others who said she had done a good job.

Holmes, who is being harnessed to the floor by a cable under his clothes, sat quietly. His parents, Robert and Arlene, showed no reaction from their seats in the second row.

The trial’s opening statements Monday revealed many details about Holmes’ life before, during and after the shootings that had remained shrouded in mystery due to the judge’s gag order.

Defense lawyers portrayed him as a “good kid” who enjoyed surfing with his family and never got in trouble, but who also sensed something wrong with his mind, even at a young age.

He hoped studying neuroscience at the University of Colorado would help him fix his thoughts, but “psychosis bloomed” instead and delusions commanded him to kill as many people as he could, they said.

District Attorney George Brauchler depicted a frighteningly smart killer who meticulously planned and carried out the mass murder to make himself feel good and be remembered, while knowing that it was immoral and illegal.

He also revealed that two court-appointed psychiatrists concluded that Holmes was sane when he opened fire, chasing moviegoers up and down the aisles and shooting at people who tried to flee.

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.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His defense hopes jurors will agree and have him indefinitely committed to a mental institution. Prosecutors say he was sane and should be executed.

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