Colorado prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the man charged with killing 12 moviegoers during a showing of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" last year.
District Attorney George Brauchler's formal call for the death penalty at a hearing on Monday came after his rejection
last week of a defence suggestion that James Holmes would be willing to plead guilty in exchange for a life prison term
Holmes, a 25-year-old former graduate student of neuroscience, is accused of opening fire inside a multiplex theatre in suburban Denver during a midnight screening of the Batman movie last July.
It was a rampage that ranks as one of the deadliest mass shootings ever in the United States and helped to reignite a national debate over gun control.
'Justice is death'
Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in the shooting spree, which also wounded 58
moviegoers. A dozen other people suffered non-gunshot injuries as they fled the cinema in Aurora, Colorado.
"My determination for James Eagan Holmes - justice is death," Brauchler told the judge at the start of the latest court hearing in Centennial, Colorado, outside Denver.
Holmes, who has grown a shaggy beard and longer hair since his arrest, showed no emotion as he sat silently at the defence table, shackled and wearing red prison garb and flanked by his lawyers.
When he first entered the courtroom, he glanced briefly at his parents, who were sitting with spectators. There was an audible gasp from the victims' side of the courtroom when Brauchler made his announcement, and Holmes' parents looked grimly at one another.
Trial next year
Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester, who had presided over the case since its inception, originally set a
trial date for Aug. 5 of this year. But after prosecutors announced their plans to seek the death penalty, a factor likely to draw out the proceedings, Sylvester reassigned the case to a different judge, Carlos Samour Jr, who set a new trial date for Feb. 3, 2014.
Samour said he expected the trial would last about four months and overruled a request by defence lawyers to push back
the start of the trial until the summer or fall of next year.
A not-guilty plea was entered on Holmes' behalf last month but the door remains open to the defence to substitute a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes' attorneys said in a filing last week that they were prepared to mount an insanity defence. But they also wrote that prior to his arraignment on March 12, Holmes "made an offer to the prosecution to resolve the case by pleading guilty and spending the rest of his life in prison without the opportunity
Holmes' lawyers said prosecutors had not accepted the offer.