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Trial Continuance Denied for Suspected Batman Shooter

DENVER (CN) - A judge entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday on behalf of the suspected Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooter after his attorneys admitted they were not prepared.

Clad in a red jumpsuit, orange sandals and a thick, unkempt beard, James Holmes shot a wild-eyed glance at the gallery as he was escorted to his seat, upon which he swiveled quietly for the rest of the arraignment hearing.

Holmes, 25, is charged with 166 criminal counts, including murder and attempted murder, for allegedly using an array of guns and explosives to attack the audience during the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises." A dozen people died at the July 2012 massacre, and another 70 were wounded.

A former doctoral student, Holmes allegedly carried out the shooting while dressed up as Batman's nemesis The Joker.

Indicating a possible defense, attorneys for Holmes asked the Arapahoe County District Court last month to consider constitutionality of Colorado's rules for insanity pleas.

Judge William Sylvester upheld the rules as constitutional Friday, but defense attorney Daniel King told the court at the arraignment hearing Tuesday that his team was "still digesting" this decision.

King said Sylvester's rulings left Holmes in a "Catch-22" situation.

The defense had claimed that an insanity plea would force Sylvester to "co-operate" with a court-ordered psychiatric examination, thus forfeiting his right to remain silent. Sylvester also ruled that Holmes could be subjected to narcoanalytic interviews and polygraph tests.

Judge Sylvester, visibly irritated with the long series of delays that has plagued the proceedings over the last eight months, asked King how long he thought it would take for his team to decide on a plea.

King answered: "It's very difficult to say, Judge. We could be ready by May 1. I don't know. It could be June."

He added that "this kind of work is extremely detail-oriented."

Sylvester shot back: "How am I supposed to make an informed decision based on the limited information you have given me?"

In response to the defense's request for a continuance, Assistant District Attorney Karen Pearson described the delays as "a little bit disingenuous."

She argued that the defense had requested the insanity advisement to prepare a plea for the arraignment. King admitted early in the hearing that even if Judge Sylvester had declared the laws unconstitutional, the defense would be no closer to entering a plea.

Pearson said, "It doesn't appear that we have made much progress since the last hearing two months ago."

After reviewing the case history, Sylvester agreed with Pearson and concluded that there are "only a couple of pleas [that] are really possible for the defense" - not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.

"Good cause has not been shown at this point to grant a continued arraignment," the judge said. "This court is prepared to enter a standard not guilty plea on behalf of the defense."

Sylvester noted that, "at a subsequent time, the court may allow a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity."

When the judge asked the defense if Holmes understood his decision, one attorney put her arm around Holmes' shoulder and exchanged whispers with her client.

Pearson argued that any change in plea will require an explanation as to "what has changed from March 12 to now."

She said that, as far as the prosecution was concerned, the defense has simply pleaded not guilty.

King made it clear, though, that Sylvester had entered the plea against the defense's objection.

The next hearing is set for April 1 at 9 a.m., when the prosecution will say if it intends to seek the death penalty. Holmes' attorneys have said that such a decision will have a profound impact on their defense.

State law prohibits the execution of criminals found to be "mentally incompetent."

Judge Sylvester also set pretrial motions hearings for May 13 to 15. The trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 5 and last for four weeks.

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