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James Holmes sits at an earlier pre-trial hearing. Youtube/7 News
Courtroom drama

"There was a lot of blood": Victims describe night of 'Batman' cinema massacre

James Holmes is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

SURVIVORS OF THE 2012 ‘Batman’ theatre massacre offered harrowing testimony in court today about the mayhem that ensued when accused gunman James Holmes opened fire inside a packed auditorium.

The 27-year-old Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 70 at a movie theater in suburban Denver.

He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and explosives charges.

Witness accounts

Colorado Shooting AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Katie Medley, the first witness to take the stand in the long-awaited trial, was nine months pregnant when she, her husband Caleb and a female friend went to see The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

About 15 minutes into the midnight showing, Medley saw the exit on the right side of the auditorium open and a canister thrown into the air above the audience.

A lone gunman, wearing a mask and body armour, came through the door.

“As he stepped in, I thought something was very wrong. I put my arm around (friend) Ashley and threw her to the ground,” Medley said. Gunfire began almost immediately.

Later, she looked up and saw her husband still sitting upright in his chair.

“I saw he had been shot in the head and I thought he was dead,” she said, adding the air was thick and it was very hard to breathe.

 ’A lot of blood’ 

Colorado Shooting Prosecutor George Brauchler makes a point during the opening day of the trial AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

After the gunman walked past the row they had been seated in, Medley said she saw that Caleb was breathing again and had a lot of blood pouring into his mouth.

After another round of gunfire, she took his water bottle and tried to wash the blood from his face.

I saw the exit open again, and I saw there were cops outside. I grabbed Caleb’s hand and he squeezed my hand.

Thinking her husband was near death, “I told him I would protect our child if he didn’t make it,” she said.

Medley said she and her friend ran to the exit:

I was wearing flip flops and slipped in blood. There was a lot of blood. A cop actually caught me.

As she and her friend sat on the curb outside the theatre, she saw first responders bring her husband out.

I saw them put Caleb on the sidewalk and I saw he was still breathing, but they had to lay him on his face because they were afraid he would aspirate (blood into his lungs).

Caleb Medley underwent several surgeries to remove part of his brain while Katie Medley went into labour at the same hospital. She gave birth to a son, Hugo, while Caleb remained in a medically induced coma for a month.

Transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, the aspiring comedian has undergone intensive rehabilitation since the shooting. Today, he cannot walk and has difficulty speaking.

Wheeled into the courtroom after his wife’s testimony, Caleb Medley used an alphabet board to spell out his name for the courtroom.

 Dead friend

Colorado Shooting AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Holmes’ attorneys meanwhile objected to letting the jury hear recordings of 911 calls made by another witness, saying the audio descriptions were too gruesome and would prejudice jurors.

“Given what this jury is going to see during the course of the trial, I don’t find a reference to a bloody victim is prejudicial. That’s what most people would use to describe what they see,” judge Carlos Samour said.

On the recording, retail manager Chichi Spruel told a police dispatcher that someone in front of her and someone beside her were injured.

“Oh God — one of the guys who came with us is dead,” Spruel is heard to say.

I see Jesse (Childress) lying face down in a pool of blood.

Spruel choked back tears at times as she recounted to attorneys the devastation she saw around her in the auditorium.

Earlier, her husband Derick told the court he tried to carry co-worker Childress from the theatre, but was unable to lift his friend’s dead weight.

Attorneys for the defendant, a failed graduate student, have not cross-examined any witnesses so far. Defence attorneys said in opening arguments Monday that they would not contest anything that happened in the theatre.

Opening remarks

Colorado Shooting AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In opening remarks at Holmes’ trial, prosecutor George Brauchler gave harrowing details of the slaughter.

Brauchler provided the first blow-by-blow account of the killings that left 12 dead and 70 injured in Aurora, Colorado.

“On a cool July night… 400 people filed into a box-like theatre to be entertained… and one person came in to slaughter them,” the prosecutor said, pointing at Holmes in a hushed courtroom.

“One guy who felt as if he had lost his career, lost his love life, lost his purpose, came to execute a plan… He tried to murder a theatre full of people to make himself feel better.”

The death toll could have been much higher, Brauchler said — but a gun cartridge jammed in the movie theater, while booby-trapped explosives he rigged at his apartment failed to go off.

The 27-year-old, who has pleaded not guilty due to insanity, listened calmly as the prosecutor set out his case on the first day of his trial, which could see Holmes face the death sentence.

Holmes, who sported neatly-trimmed brown hair and a beard for the first court session, has been in custody since the night of the mass murder in Aurora, Colorado on 20 July, 2012.

7 NEWS - The Denver Channel / YouTube

Grisly and harrowing evidence is being presented at the trial.

In an emergency 911 call from that night, played in court, repeated shots and screams can be heard as a caller tells the police dispatcher about the unfolding massacre.

Brauchler opened his case by showing a photo of the back door of the Aurora movie theater, smeared with blood.

“Through this door is horror,” he said. “Through this door is bullets, blood, brains and bodies.”

Witnesses said Holmes threw smoke bombs before opening fire randomly with weapons including an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber pistol.

Colorado Shooting Aurora theatre shooting defendant James Holmes, centre left, and defense attorney Daniel King. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

© – AFP 2015

Read: After years of delays, ‘Batman’ cinema shooting trial to get under way >

Read: Colorado shooting suspect pleads not guilty by reason of insanity >