Nightly News   |  January 07, 2013

Emotional testimony at James Holmes’ preliminary hearing

Witnesses described the gruesome scene left behind, a tear gas-filled killing zone that left 12 dead. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> now to colorado and fair warning , this is a tough story. and it's going to be for the duration of the preliminary hearing that got under way today for james holmes , the lone gunman charged with killing 12 people in the aurora, colorado movie theater during the latest screening of the "batman" movie in july. mike taibbi is with us tonight from centennial, colorado . good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. they're calling it a mini trial and here's why. if prosecutors don't seek the death penalty and haven't said yet and james holmes pleads guilty to all of the charges and accepts a sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, there may never be a trial. more than 100 victims' relatives and victims' survivors packed the courtroom and two overflow rooms to hear details of the case against james holmes , disheveled and butted in court and seemingly uninterested in the proceedings. the young police officer who put holmes in handcuffs outside century 16 theater number 9 that night described him just minutes after the shooting stopped as very, very relaxed, like there weren't normal emotional responses to anything. he seemed very detached. but subsequent police witnesses describe the unsneakily gruesome scene he left behind . a killing zone that left 12 dead and some 70 wounded. officer justin grizzle, who transported six of the critically wounded to local hospitals in his own car broke down when asked why he kept returning to the theater to pull more living victims into his car. "i didn't want them to die", he said, barely whispering. another browne broke down when he called finding no pulse when he checked the littlest victim. terrible details, said jessica watts, whose cousin was dead. but details that have to be made public.

>> it's just a piece to the closure and i definitely want to make sure that the integrity of the case is intact so that we don't have to repeat this in the future.

>> reporter: and as you said, brian, it's going to continue to be difficult in court this week. prosecutors have still photos and hours of video of the crime scene if they choose to show it. as expected, several victim survivors will also testify. in the meantime, the cinemark theater is expected to open next thursday, not without controversy.

>> mike taibbi tonight.