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    Suspect in Aurora movie theater killings due back in court

    CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The suspect in the Colorado movie theater killings will return to court this week for a hearing that might be the closest thing to a trial.

    James Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is charged with killing 12 people and injuring 70 by opening fire in a theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora last July.

    At a weeklong preliminary hearing starting Monday, prosecutors will outline their case against Holmes. The judge will then determine whether to send the case to trial.

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    Legal analysts say that evidence appears to be so strong that Holmes may well accept a plea agreement before trial. In such cases, the preliminary hearing can set the stage for a deal by letting each side assess the other’s strengths and weaknesses, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

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    Holmes, who faces more than 160 counts including first-degree murder and attempted murder, could have waived his right to a preliminary hearing. But defense lawyers sometimes go through with the hearing because it gives them a picture of prosecution evidence.

    Holmes could get the death penalty or life in prison without parole if he goes to trial and is convicted of murder.

    He could avoid the death penalty if lawyers argue he is mentally ill or innocent by reason of insanity.