By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - A survivor of Colorado's movie theater massacre told jurors on Wednesday how he laid wounded as he watched gunman James Holmes move slowly about the body-strewn cinema holding a semiautomatic rifle in front of him.
Holmes, a 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, could face the death penalty if convicted of opening fire inside a packed midnight premier of a Batman film in July 2012, killing a dozen people and wounding 70 others.
He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of murder and attempted murder, and his long awaited trial began this week in a courtroom on the outskirts of Denver.
On Wednesday, the prosecution called witness Joshua Nowlan, a former member of the military who worked on aircraft carriers.
He went to the movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," at the Century 16 multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora with friends who had just returned from their honeymoon in Florida.
About 15 or 20 minutes into the film, a tear gas canister was thrown into the theater, and then the shooting started.
Nowlan, who shielded his friends from the bullets, was shot twice and has undergone multiple surgeries. He used the cane he now needs to walk to show jurors what he saw next.
"I assumed it had to be the shooter, from his stance ... He was walking around, and I can see him pointing the gun in a circular motion that looked like he was searching for more people ... I was terribly scared," Nowlan told the court.
"My thought process was that he was searching for other people and that he was going to start going row by row, and that anybody he would see in that row who was still moving, he would shoot."
He described the shooter firing three-round bursts. Asked if the gunman moved fast or methodically, Nowlan said: "He was definitely moving slowly."
Prosecutors say Holmes, who was armed with a handgun, shotgun and semiautomatic rifle, carried out the massacre because he had lost his career, girlfriend and purpose in life, and did it "to make himself feel better."
Holmes' public defenders say he was suffering from schizophrenia; that he heard voices in his head telling him to kill; and that he was not in control of his actions "or what he perceived to be reality."
The trial is expected to last four or five months.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis. Editing by Andre Grenon)