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Striking self-photos taken by suspect prior to slayings

 Seen in courtroom sketches, suspect James Holmes held weapons in photos he took before the July 20 attack in an Aurora, Colo., theater.

Bill Robles/REUTERS

Seen in courtroom sketches, suspect James Holmes held weapons in photos he took before the July 20 attack in an Aurora, Colo., theater.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — The photos were chilling and enigmatic, just like their subject. In the pictures, taken on his ­iPhone hours before the Aurora movie theater massacre, accused gunman James Holmes mugs for the camera, sticks out his tongue, and smiles as he holds a Glock under his face and displays his arsenal arrayed on his bed.

Prosecutors who displayed the pictures at a hearing that ended Wednesday argued the photos display ‘‘identity, deliberation, and extreme indifference.’’

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Holmes’s attorneys — who have been setting up an insanity defense and said they might present testimony about the defendant’s mental health — decided not to call any witnesses.

A judge is due to rule by Friday whether prosecutors presented enough evidence to justify Holmes standing trial for more than 160 felony counts stemming from the July 20 attack, which killed 12 people and injured 70. Holmes, 25, may enter a formal plea that day.

The three-day hearing occurred as the nation still recovers from the shock of last month’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults. It wrapped up just as the Colorado Legislature began its session and pledged to tackle gun violence, and Vice President Joe Biden met with families of victims as part of the White House’s own gun control push.

Prosecutors presented the most detailed description of the attack and Holmes’s alleged months of preparation. But they never addressed the mystery of why Holmes opened fire six weeks after leaving a neuroscience graduate program.

Legal specialists say evidence against Holmes is so strong that the case may end in a plea deal. That would make the hearing the only detailed presentation of the evidence that victims, their families, and the public will hear.

Holmes sat impassively through much of the proceedings, watching intently as a surveillance video showed him entering the theater lobby. Family members, who had a better view of Holmes’s face than the media did in the packed courtroom, said he smiled multiple times, especially when the photos were shown.

‘‘He’s not crazy, he’s evil,’’ said Tom Teves, whose 24-year-old son Alex was killed in the attack. ‘‘He’s an animal.’’

Prosecutor Karen Pearson argued that Holmes meticulously planned the attack, starting with the online purchase of two tear gas canisters on May 10, followed by buying online 6,295 rounds of ammunition, and body armor, as well as going to local sporting goods stores to purchase an assault ­rifle, shotgun, and two Glock pistols. He bought his ticket for opening night of ‘‘The Dark Knight Returns’’ nearly two weeks before the attack and visited the theater early, photographing the layout.

About six hours before the attack, Holmes took a series of photos on his phone. In one he wears black contact lenses and a black stocking cap, with two tufts of his dyed-red hair sticking out like a pair of horns. In another he holds a pistol beneath his face, twisted into a grin. In a third, much of his arsenal — the assault rifle and shotgun, magazines for ammunition, tactical gear, and bags to carry rounds — is displayed on a red sheet on his bed.

When Holmes burst into the theater and opened fire just after midnight July 20 there were as many as 1,500 people crowded into the seats and in the auditorium next door, prosecutors said. Some of Holmes’s bullets pierced the wall and injured people in the adjacent theater.

The hearing is a legal formality to establish the prosecution’s case. Defense attorneys rarely mount a full-blown case during such hearings, but lawyer Tamara Brady offered a limited defense preview when she questioned an ATF agent who had listed Holmes’s extensive online arms purchases.

Brady asked whether any Colorado law prevented ‘‘a ­severely mentally ill person’’ from making the online purchases. The answer: No.

If Holmes is found sane, goes to trial, and is convicted, his attorneys can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill. If Holmes is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would likely be sent to the state mental hospital, not prison. His case would be reviewed every six months until he’s deemed sane and released.

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