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Colorado police initially thought theater gunman was another officer

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/And

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes was clad in body armor when he shot dead 12 moviegoers, leading responding police to mistake him for a fellow officer, two policemen said at a pretrial hearing on Tuesday.

"I initially thought he was another police officer ... (but) he wasn't acting like other officers," Aurora Police Officer Jason Oviatt said about the moment he encountered Holmes in the parking lot of a suburban Denver cinema.

When Oviatt and fellow officer Jason Sweeney realized that Holmes' gear was not police issue, they ordered him to the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed him, Oviatt told the court.

Details of the arrest of the former neuroscience graduate student came out during a hearing in which defense lawyers sought to have statements their client made to police after his arrest precluded from being used against him.

Sweeney testified that Holmes answered, "No, it's just me," when asked if he had an accomplice.

Holmes, 25, is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside the theater during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in July.

Shackled and attired in red prison garb, Holmes had no visible reaction to the testimony during the daylong hearing.

The California native claims he was insane during the shooting spree that injured 70 others.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty if Holmes is convicted.

Public defenders argued that Holmes was not told he has a constitutional right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement, the so-called Miranda warning.

They are trying to prevent a police officer from testifying that when Holmes was first asked if he acted alone, he responded with "a self-satisfying, offensive smirk."

Holmes ultimately told officers that he had four guns and that he had rigged his nearby apartment with explosives.

Prosecutor Karen Pearson argued that there is an exception to the Miranda warning when law enforcement is faced with an emergency situation. Officers responded to a chaotic scene in a darkened parking lot, with screaming and bloodied victims, reports of multiple shooters, and that they needed information quickly, Pearson said.

"This was a public safety nightmare that need to be addressed," she said.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. did not immediately rule on the motions.

The trial is scheduled to begin in February. Samour said prospective jurors should be warned that the trial could last eight months.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Stacey Joyce)

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