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Photos show victims lying among popcorn and spent ammunition after Colorado theatre shooting

04/30/2015 06:16 EDT | Updated 08/09/2015 12:00 EDT
CENTENNIAL, Colo. - The bodies lay where they fell, sprawled on steps or wedged between rows of seats, surrounded by spent ammunition, scattered popcorn and shoes left behind in the panic to escape.

Prosecutors showed jurors graphic crime scene photos Thursday in the Colorado theatre shooting trial, the first time images of the bloodshed were shown in public since the July 20, 2012, attack.

One juror briefly turned his head after looking at one of the photos displayed on a video screen. Most jurors studied the images intently but showed little emotion.

Some spectators in the gallery wept. A woman broke down in sobs and left the courtroom.

Twelve people were killed and 70 injured in the attack at the Century 16 theatre in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Ten died at the theatre, while the other two were pronounced dead at hospitals.

If James Holmes — who has admitted he was the shooter — felt any reaction to the photos, it wasn't visible. He watched from the defence table, where he is tethered to the floor by a harness and cable under his street clothes.

Holmes' mother, Arlene, gripped her husband Bob's arm and pulled him close as the images appeared. He held her hand and looked straight ahead.

The photos could not be seen on a video feed made available to news organizations, which are sharing it online.

It was a grim ending to the first short week of the trial, which won't resume until Monday to accommodate plans that one juror made before the case got underway.

The photos added still more emotional weight to the prosecution's case.

Since testimony began Tuesday, jurors have heard victims describe the burning pain of gunshot wounds and the agony of watching loved ones collapse before their eyes.

Police officers — some so overwhelmed by grief they had to pause to pull themselves together — described rushing to hospitals with gasping victims in their patrol cars.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.

Defence attorneys say his mind was so distorted by schizophrenia that he didn't know right from wrong. If the jury finds he was insane, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital.

Prosecutors have described Holmes as calculating and smart, and they say he believed killing others increased his self-worth. They are asking jurors to convict him of murder and sentence him to be executed.

Police officers testified Thursday that Holmes seemed keenly interested in the attack's aftermath, peering out the window of a squad car as injured victims were treated nearby.

He first wore a vacant expression and seemed calm and detached — but sweaty and smelly — after police handcuffed him in the parking lot behind the theatre, the officers said.

But when they placed him in the police car near a back door to the theatre, "he would look around like he was taking it all in," Aurora police officer Jason Oviatt said.

It was a tumultuous scene, with emergency responders treating the wounded and loading them into police cars to be rushed to hospitals because no ambulances had arrived.

"He would sort of look around whenever a car went speeding past or when there was something else going on, somebody shouting outside the car," Oviatt said.

Prosecutors called four law-enforcement officers as witnesses Thursday. For the first time since testimony began, the defence cross-examined some of them.

Questioned by defence lawyer Daniel King, the officers said Holmes had disheveled, reddish-orange hair, that his pupils were extremely dilated and that he appeared disoriented and stared off into space when he was first arrested.

King's questions mirrored an argument the defence made in opening statements — that Holmes' behaviour was shaped by his mental illness.

Arlene Holmes attempted to pass a note to her son's attorneys at the defence table from her seat two rows back in the gallery Thursday, but a deputy intercepted it.

She then left the courtroom with her husband and defence attorney Tamara Brady. It wasn't clear what the note said or why they left.

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Elliott reported from Denver.