Human spirit, humour shine through at movie massacre trial

2015-05-04 19:57
James Holmes (Picture: AP)

James Holmes (Picture: AP)

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Centennial - While the details emerging in the Colorado movie theatre massacre trial have been almost too much to bear for many, glimmers of the human spirit and resilience have also shone through at times in the windowless, low-ceiling courtroom.

Prompted by terrified accounts from severely wounded survivors and halting testimony from choked-up police officers, sobs have often been heard all around Courtroom 201 at the Arapahoe County Justice Centre, from the victims' families, the jury box, and members of the media.

But there have been moments of levity as well, and while they may seem somewhat incongruous or out-of-place, they have been an enormous relief for almost all involved in the tension-loaded proceedings.

Survivor Josh Nowlan, who shielded his friends from the gunman's bullets, described being placed in the front of a police car to take him to the hospital.

"This is probably the only time I can laugh about the whole situation," Nowlan recounted to the jury.

"The police officer in the back screamed 'Go!' and I said 'Hold up!' and I turned and I literally tried to grab the seat belt to buckle myself in," he chuckled, to loud laughter from around the court.

"And the officer looks like "I'm not going to give you a ticket.'"

Gunman James Holmes, a 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder for killing 12 people and wounding 70 during a midnight screening of a Batman movie at a multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Another light moment amid the horror came with a question from prosecutor Rich Orman to a female police officer who raced to the scene that night in July 2012.

"I see you smiling, but I need to ask this question: where you first were when you heard the call that something was going on at the theatre?" asked Orman.

"I was standing in a 7-11... to use the bathroom," said Officer Annette Brook, blushing and drawing sympathetic chuckles from the jury.

"And did you wait to use the bathroom, or did you just leave?" Orman asked. "I left," Brook replied.

Light relief

District Attorney George Brauchler also joshed with Nowlan, asking him how he and the couple he went with - who had just returned from their honeymoon in Florida - decided who sat where in their row.

"To make sure to keep you from his wife?" asked Brauchler with a raised eyebrow. "Of course!" Nowlan replied with a laugh.

Orman also drew chuckles when he cited a 1903 Colorado case in a legal argument. "It still was the state of Colorado and not territorial law," the prosecutor said lightheartedly. Colorado became a state in 1876.

But probably the biggest outpouring of relieved mirth, another rare interlude in the relentlessly grim evidence, came during the testimony of Anggiat Mora, who went to the movie with his wife and their 14-year-old son.

Jurors chuckled when Mora said some movie-goers wore "weird costumes," and even more so when he was asked about the previews. "I'm not really giving attention," he replied. "I think at that time I'm asleep ... sometimes my son felt my popcorn to try to get my attention, to wake me up!"

All three family members were injured in the rampage. Mora had to carry his wife to the exit on his back.

"This is first time I'm carrying my wife. I'm thinking: 'Why are you so heavy?" he told the court, to widespread guffaws.

"Finally I'm out of breath, and I set her at the back of the theatre."

Testimony resumes on Monday.

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