A stunned silence settled over a courtroom Friday after the father of a woman killed in the Colorado theater shootings loudly cursed defendant James Holmes, prompting a sympathetic but firm warning from a judge.
Steve Hernandez, whose 32-year-old daughter, Rebecca Wingo, was among the dead, shouted, “Rot in hell, Holmes!” moments after Judge William Sylvester gave Holmes two months to enter a plea.
The outburst capped an emotional week of often gruesome testimony about the July 20 shootings and came as the nation debates gun control and struggles to find ways to stop mass shootings.
In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden met with the stepfather of one of the Aurora victims as part of a push for gun control by the White House.
In Denver, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has called for new measures to keep guns away from mentally ill and dangerous people.
Despite the procedural wrangling in the theater shooting case, there may be few options for Holmes. If, as many anticipate, he enters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, he would undergo lengthy evaluations at a state mental hospital before trial.
If the case goes to trial and he’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, Holmes conceivably could be released from a mental hospital someday if he is deemed to have recovered, but that is considered an unlikely possibility.
A guilty plea or conviction could mean life in prison or the death penalty.
Holmes, 25, was ordered late Thursday to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder after 21/2 days of testimony from police and federal agents who provided excruciating details about the attack.
Judge Sylvester called Holmes back to court Friday for an arraignment hearing to enter a plea, but defense attorneys requested the delay, saying they would not be ready to do that until March.
That prompted a murmur of disbelief among about 40 survivors and family members of the victims in the gallery.
Judge Sylvester granted the delay, saying he wanted to avoid giving the defense any opening later to appeal the case. Immediately after the judge adjourned the hearing, Hernandez shouted at Holmes. Deputies took Hernandez aside and Judge Sylvester reconvened the proceedings.
“I’m terribly sorry for your loss, and I can only begin to imagine the emotions that are raging,” Judge Sylvester told Hernandez, saying he could watch the proceedings by video if he could not contain himself.
Hernandez apologized and promised to remain silent at future hearings.
Holmes is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the killing of 12 people and injuring of 70 others during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in the Denver suburb of Aurora.