(Corrects total number of attempted-murder charges from 116 to 140, paragraphs 5-6)
* 13-year-old pleaded for assistance for two cousins
* Dispatcher sought to tell her how to administer CPR
* Guns and ammunition purchases began two months before
By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo., Jan 8 (Reuters) - A 13-year-old girl caught in last summer’s shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater was heard frantically pleading for help for two gravely wounded family members in a tape of her emergency 911 call played in court on Tuesday.
In it, the distraught girl could be heard telling an emergency dispatcher that her 6-year-old cousin, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, and Veronica’s pregnant mother, Ashley Moser, had been struck by gunfire. Veronica was the youngest of the 12 people killed in the attack.
“My two cousins have been shot,” she cried, as the dispatcher tried in vain to instruct the girl, whose name was not given, on how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The recording was one of two emergency calls played in court during the second day of a preliminary hearing for the accused 25-year-old gunman, James Holmes, in which prosecutors are seeking to persuade a judge they have enough evidence to put him on trial.
The former University of Colorado neuroscience doctoral student is charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 140 counts of attempted murder stemming from the July 20 rampage at a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
In addition to the 12 people who died, 58 others were wounded by gunfire and 12 more were hurt in some other way. Prosecutors charged Holmes with two counts for each victim - one for commission of the crime “after deliberation” and another for “malice manifesting extreme indifference to human life.”
Prosecutors have yet to decide whether the seek the death penalty, though the charges make Holmes eligible for it.
Should the judge order the case to proceed to trial, legal experts believe Holmes will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyers have said he suffers from an unspecified mental illness and are expected to call witnesses later this week to testify about his state of mind.
Holmes, now sporting a full beard, sat quietly and expressionless at the defense table on Tuesday, shackled and dressed in red prison garb, as he has through most previous hearings in the case.
Police have testified that Holmes, who bought his movie ticket 12 days in advance, left the screening a few minutes after it started and re-entered Theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex a short time later dressed in tactical body armor, a gas mask and helmet.
Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol, police say, he then lobbed a tear gas canister into the auditorium and sprayed the audience with bullets.
Later, in the parking lot, he surrendered without a struggle to the first police officers arriving on the scene and alerted them that his apartment had been booby-trapped with explosives.
Police have described encountering a nightmarish, bloody scene inside the darkened theater, where dozens of victims lay sprawled across the auditorium as the Batman film continued to play and emergency-alarm strobe lights flashed.
One officer choked up with emotion on Monday as he recounted hunching over the lifeless body of Veronica Moser-Sullivan trying to find her pulse. Her mother survived but was left paralyzed from the waist down and suffered a miscarriage after the shooting.
The call from their cousin was made from inside the theater moments after the massacre.
A second call played in court by police detective Randy Hansen was placed during the shooting. In that tape, lasting 27 seconds, the distinct pop-pop-pop sound of 30 gunshots can be heard, though no voices are discernible.
FBI agent Garrett Gumbinner, an explosives expert, recounted on Tuesday that Holmes matter-of-factly described for him and a police detective after the shooting how he had elaborately rigged his apartment with trip wires and homemade bombs.
Gumbinner said Holmes had told authorities his plan had been for the explosives to go off as a diversion that would draw emergency personnel to his apartment while he was carrying out the attack on the theater a short distance away. Authorities managed to disarm the explosives without any of them detonating.
Another federal agent, Steven Beggs of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified that Holmes began stocking up on guns, ammunition and other gear about two months before the shooting.
The three weapons he carried into the theater, and a pistol found in his car, as well as nearly 6,300 rounds of ammunition and tactical body armor, were all legally purchased from various gun shops and online dealers, and he passed all the required background checks, Beggs testified.
Defense lawyer Tamara Brady asked Beggs under cross-examination if there was anything that could stop a severely mentally ill person from purchasing body armor in Colorado. The ATF agent replied, “No.” (Reporting by Keith Coffman and Laura Beth Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)