A suspect has appeared in court nearly six months after the bloody rampage in a Colorado movie theatre left 12 people dead for a hearing in what might be the closest thing to a trial the victims and their families will get to see.
James Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 by opening fire in a darkened theatre showing the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises in the Denver suburb of Aurora last July.
At a weeklong preliminary hearing starting today, prosecutors will outline their case against Holmes, the first official public disclosure of their evidence. The judge will then determine whether to send the case to trial.
Legal analysts say that the evidence appears to be so strong that Holmes may well accept a plea agreement before trial.
Court officials expect many survivors and family members of the dead to attend the preliminary hearing, along with scores of spectators.
At least two overflow rooms are being prepared where the hearing can be observed.
District Judge William B Sylvester has imposed a gag order on attorneys and investigators, and many court documents have been filed under seal, so little is known about Holmes' path from promising graduate student to suspect in a mass murder.
The few details that have been made public suggest a disturbing descent.
After Holmes was arrested investigators found his apartment booby-trapped with potentially deadly explosives.
Holmes' mental health is expected to be a major factor whether his case ends in a plea agreement or goes to trial.