Colorado police officer says movie theater gunman was 'very calm'

By Keith Coffman

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The police officer who arrested Colorado movie theater massacre gunman James Holmes told jurors on Thursday the shooter seemed very calm, relaxed and "sort of disconnected" when he found him standing behind the cinema where he had killed 12 people.

Holmes, 27, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside a packed midnight premiere of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" at a Denver-area multiplex in July 2012, also wounding 70 people.

The former neuroscience graduate student has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

On day four of the trial, the prosecution called Aurora police officer Jason Oviatt, who found Holmes next to his car outside the theater wearing a gas mask, helmet and body armor.

Oviatt thought at first that the defendant was a fellow officer, because of his dress. But he realized Holmes was acting oddly and ordered him to his knees.

"He was sort of vacant. He was very relaxed. He was very calm and sort of disconnected ... not displaying any outward emotion or any outward sign of real engagement in what's going on," Oviatt told the jury of 19 women and five men.

"He was very sweaty. He smelled bad."

Asked twice by the prosecution whether Holmes had any apparent problems answering questions put to him by officers, Oviatt responded: "Not at all."

Oviatt also repeated key testimony given at a preliminary hearing in 2013, describing Holmes's response when asked by another officer if he had an accomplice.

"He said: 'It's just me,'" Oviatt told the court.

The officer described the siren- and scream-filled period after he put Holmes in a patrol car as something of a blur.

"A lot of people being carried to cars, a lot of blood," he said, adding he stayed by the vehicle holding Holmes.

"I didn't want a victim from the theater to be put into the same car that he was in," Oviatt said, pausing to get a handle on his emotions. "I didn't want him to be taken to the hospital. I didn't want him to escape while no one was paying attention."


Another police officer, Aaron Blue, told jurors he asked Holmes if he had any weapons, and that he replied: "I have four guns. I have improvised explosive devices, and they won't go off unless you set them off."

Prosecutors say Holmes rigged his apartment near the theater with explosives, which were defused by bomb technicians.

Police Sergeant Stephen Redfearn said the suspect moved around a lot in the patrol car, making him nervous, and he said he was struck by how Holmes seemed "very interested" in what was going on as they treated the wounded nearby.

A succession of burly police officers and firefighters have fought back tears on the witness stand this week as they described the aftermath of the attack.

Police officer Justin Grizzle drove several victims to the hospital including Caleb Medley, an aspiring stand-up comedian who was "unrecognizable" after being shot in the face.

"He made some of the most awful noises I've ever heard. I could tell he was dying. I could tell he was gurgling on his own blood," Grizzle told the court, between sobs and long pauses.

"And then he would stop and I heard nothing. So I yelled at him: 'Don't fucking die on me! Don't fucking die on me!' And he would start breathing again, and I would start breathing again, and we'd continue."

Medley survived after multiple surgeries, and he testified in court on Tuesday from a wheelchair, using an alphabet board to spell out answers. Sitting just feet away, Holmes looked on, expressionless.

Prosecutors say Holmes, who was armed with a pistol, shotgun and semiautomatic rifle, had lost his career, girlfriend and purpose in life, and did it "to make himself feel better."

Holmes' public defenders say he was suffering from schizophrenia; that he heard voices commanding him to kill; and that he was not in control of his actions "or what he perceived to be reality."

The trial is expected to last four or five months.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman, writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)