CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - A woman whose six-year-old daughter and unborn child were killed in the Colorado movie theater massacre in 2012 gave a heartrending account on Friday of the shooting, as prosecutors wrapped up their case against gunman James Holmes.
"I went to stand up to reach for her hand to try to exit," partially paralyzed survivor Ashley Moser said, weeping. "It slipped through my hand. ... As soon as I stood up I just remember getting hit in my chest, and I remember falling and landing on top of her."
After eight weeks and more than 200 witnesses, Moser testified about the shooting, which occurred hours after she had an ultrasound test and found she was pregnant. She decided to celebrate by taking her six-year-old daughter Veronica to the movies.
Veronica died after Holmes shot her several times. Her mother was hit in the neck and abdomen by bullets that killed her unborn baby and left her paralyzed from the waist down and without part of her left lung.
Holmes' public defenders had sought to stop the jury from hearing much of Moser's upsetting account. They had argued that large parts of it would be unfairly prejudicial and irrelevant since they do not contest that their client opened fire in the theater, killing 12 people and wounding 70.
Wearing a sleeveless purple dress and sitting in a motorized wheelchair alongside a scale model of the theater, Moser told the jury that when the shooting began she assumed it was a prank. Her first thought was to leave with Veronica.
District Attorney George Brauchler asked Moser if she could feel her daughter moving after she fell on top of her.
"No," she replied.
"Breathing?" he asked.
"Could you get off her?" the prosecutor asked.
"No. I tried, but I couldn't move," Moser sobbed quietly in response.
Holmes, 27, stared straight ahead during her testimony. Throughout the proceedings, the gunman has stayed impassive, only occasionally turning to watch videos of himself recorded after his arrest at the scene of the July 2012 rampage inside a packed midnight premiere of a Batman film.
The former neuroscience graduate student has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He could face the death penalty if convicted of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
In contrast to the wild-eyed, gaunt figure with flame-red hair who was brought to court in the days immediately after the shooting, Holmes now wears glasses and a beard, and he has put on weight in jail.
He is tethered to the floor beneath the desk used by his attorneys, who have said he is heavily sedated.
Holmes' parents, Arlene and Bob, have sat in a corner of the courtroom throughout the trial, at times taking notes.
Overruling the defense's objections, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour allowed the majority of Ashley Moser's testimony. He also let prosecutors briefly display a photograph of her daughter Veronica, taken smiling and waving after her kindergarten graduation.
During the trial, references to the rampage's youngest victim have often produced sobs and tears around the small, windowless court in Centennial, on the outskirts of Denver.
Ashley Moser had attended court one day during the first week of the proceedings. Weeks later, Veronica's father, Ian Sullivan, was present when a coroner testified at length about the child's autopsy and showed a photograph of the dead girl lying in the morgue. Sullivan glowered at the defendant from across the room throughout that whole hearing.
Holmes launched the attack using an automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol. Prosecutors say he did it because he had lost his career, his girlfriend and his purpose in life, and that he had a longstanding "hatred of mankind."
Defense attorneys will begin presenting their case next Thursday. They say Holmes suffers from schizophrenia, that he has long heard voices in his head commanding him to kill, and that he was not in control of his actions. They will seek to have him committed to a state mental institution.
Two court-appointed psychiatrists have concluded that although Holmes was seriously mentally ill, he was sane when he planned and carried out the attack.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)