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James Holmes: Hand puppets, online dating, and tear-gas grenades

James Holmes turned paper bags into hand puppets just hours after the Aurora theater shooting, says a Colorado detective. In a hearing, prosecutors tried to show that James Holmes was mentally competent, methodically planning the July 2012 attack that killed 12 people. 

By Dan ElliottAssociated Press / January 9, 2013

This courtroom sketch shows James Holmes being escorted by a deputy as he arrives at preliminary hearing in district court in Centennial, Colo. Prosecutors say Holmes opened fire at a movie theater on July 20, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.

(AP Photo/Bill Robles, Pool)

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Centennial, Colo.

It was just hours after a Colorado movie theater shooting, and James Holmes was not acting like a man accused of methodically planning the attack that killed 12 people.

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As a police detective interviewed the suspect they'd picked up outside the theater, he started pretending the paper bags on his hands — meant to preserve gunshot residue — were puppets.

The former neuroscience graduate student tried to jam a staple into an electrical outlet. He played with a cup on the table. An officer noted that his eyes were dilated.

The description came Tuesday as prosecutors try to show that Holmes should face a trial for the July 20 attack at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." He faces more than 160 felony charges for allegedly killing 12 and injuring 70. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

The hearing continued Wednesday. Defense attorneys say Holmes is mentally ill and have said they might call witnesses who could discuss Holmes' mental health.

The description of Holmes after the attack, given by police detective Craig Appel, seemed to conflict with prosecutors' attempts to show Holmes as methodical, spending two months to assemble his arsenal.

The first recorded purchase: two tear gas grenades, ordered online May 10.

Holmes also bought two Glock handguns, a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle, along with 6,295 rounds of ammunition, targets, body armor and chemicals, prosecutors said.

He dyed his hair bright orange, then bought a scope and non-firing dummy bullets on July 1, the visit and the new hair color documented in security video.

Finally, he purchased glycerin and potassium permanganate — chemicals that could combine to create fire and sparks — from a science store. At some point, he also improvised napalm, as well as thermite, a substance which burns so hot that water can't extinguish the blaze.

Holmes' purchases were split between two planned attacks, prosecutors said — the theater shooting and a booby trapped apartment that would've blown up if anyone had entered.

The bottle of glycerin was meant to fall into the permanganate when the door to his apartment opened, to cause an explosion and then a fire, prosecutors said.

The manager of The Science Company, Steve Grebe, confirmed the purchase, noting the amount was small and the materials are common in junior high experiments.

The setup in Holmes' apartment had deadly potential, though. Parts of Holmes' carpet were soaked with gasoline and oil and ammonium chloride, a white powder, was poured onto the floor in strips, FBI bomb technician Garrett Gumbinner said.

"It would have ignited and the whole apartment would have exploded or caught fire," Gumbinner said.

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