The world's first look at the man accused of killing 12 moviegoers and injuring 58 others in a shooting rampage at a packed midnight screening of the new Batman film was that of a sleepy, seemingly inattentive suspect.
Mr. Holmes shuffled into court with his hands cuffed. Unshaven and appearing dazed, he sat virtually motionless, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case.
At one point, Mr. Holmes simply closed his eyes.
He never said a word.
Prosecutors said they didn't know if he was being medicated.
His demeanor, however, angered victims' relatives.
Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the attack, watched Mr. Holmes intently throughout the roughly 12-minute hearing.
"I saw the coward in court today and Alex could have wiped the floor with him without breaking a sweat," Mr. Teves said. His son, a physical therapist, dove to protect his girlfriend during the shooting at a multiplex in nearby Aurora, Colo.
The hearing was the first confirmation Mr. Holmes' hair was colored.
On Friday, there were reports of his hair being red and that he told arresting officers he was "The Joker." Batman's nemesis in fictional Gotham has brightly colored hair.
Authorities have declined to confirm if Mr. Holmes told officers he was Batman's enemy. Investigators found a Batman mask inside his apartment, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said Sunday on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Holmes, who police say donned body armor and was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly afterward.
His home was booby-trapped with a trip wire, explosives, and unknown liquids that took a day to disarm.
Mr. Holmes, who is being held in isolation, is refusing to cooperate, authorities said. They said it could take months to determine a motive.
Security was tight at the courthouse, with sheriff's deputies stationed outside, including on the roofs of both court buildings.
Mr. Holmes sat next to one of his attorneys. Judge William Sylvester advised Mr. Holmes of his rights and ordered him to have no contact with victims of the theater shootings.
Prosecutor Carol Chambers said her office is considering pursuing the death penalty, but a decision will be made in consultation with the victims' families. Her office is responsible for the convictions of two of the three people on Colorado's death row.
She is the only state district attorney to seek the death penalty in a case in the last five years, said Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who tracks death-penalty cases.
David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during the hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped injury but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition. His daughter was scheduled to deliver her baby Monday.
"When it's your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry," Mr. Sanchez said.
He said daughter Katie Medley, 21, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had waited year to watch the movie.
Asked what punishment is appropriate if Mr. Holmes is convicted, Mr. Sanchez said, "I think death is."
Colorado uses the death penalty sparingly. One execution has occurred since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. The state legislature fell a vote short of abolishing it in 2009.
Mr. Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday.
He is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder and could face more counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations.
Mr. Holmes has been assigned a public defender.
In San Diego, a lawyer for Mr. Holmes' family, Lisa Damiani, could not shed light on the defendant's motives or frame of mind. "The family has elected not to discuss James or their relationship with James at this time," she said.
Nor would the parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, talk about their son's physical appearance or demeanor in court, Ms. Damiani said.
She allowed, however, that "everyone's concerned" about the prospect of the death penalty, which she said is "highly likely" in the case, given that Colorado is a "death-penalty state."
The family attorney was asked if the parents stood by Mr. Holmes.
"Yes, they do," Ms. Damiani said. "He's their son."
She emphasized she represents Mr. Holmes' family, not the defendant himself. "The family wants to reiterate that their hearts go out to the victims and their families," she said.
Weeks before the attack, Mr. Holmes quit a 35-student Ph.D. program in neuroscience for reasons that aren't clear.
He had earlier taken an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year. University of Colorado Denver officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.
At a news conference, university officials refused to answer questions about Mr. Holmes.
"To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done," Donald Elliman, the university's chancellor.
The judge has issued an order barring lawyers in the case from publicly commenting on matters including evidence, whether a plea deal is in the works, or results of any examination or test performed on someone.
Some of the victims' families, who had traveled to Colorado for the hearing, planned to return home to plan funerals.
President Obama began his first campaign-focused trip since the shootings by remembering service members and veterans who were killed in the theater attack. "These young patriots were willing to serve in faraway lands, yet they were taken from us at home," Mr. Obama said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that all Defense Department installations worldwide flew their flags at half-staff to honor the victims of the attack.