Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing 12 people in a crowded US cinema last year, they said Monday as the trial was delayed until next year.
The case against alleged shooter James Holmes will probably take years to reach a resolution, Judge William Sylvester said, as some in the Colorado court showed frustration at the likely length of the legal proceedings.
Twenty-five year-old Holmes last week offered to plead guilty in return for escaping the death penalty and accepting a life jail term, in what his lawyers said could have ended the case immediately.
But District Attorney George Brauchler announced he was seeking a death sentence after asking victims' relatives what they wanted. His office had heard from 800 survivors, victims and relatives, he said.
"It is my intention that for James Eagan Holmes in this case, justice is death," he told the court in Centennial.
The trial had been tentatively set for August. But it was postponed Monday until February 3, 2014 -- as Sylvester removed himself from the case, citing his workload as chief justice in Colorado's 18th judicial district.
"The final resolution of this case is now likely years away," he said, citing the "enormous consumption of resources a death penalty case of this magnitude entails," and naming judge Carlos Samour to take over the case.
The trial is expected to last four months. Holmes' lawyers had asked that nine months be allocated, partly because jury selection will take longer, as prospective jurors are questioned more intensively in death sentence cases.
Judge Sylvester entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Holmes last month. At that time, his lawyers said they were not yet ready to enter a plea.
Marcus Weaver, who was wounded in the arm in the theater shooting, said Monday: "James Holmes has an excellent opportunity to own up to what he did, and do the right thing" by pleading guilty.
Holmes is accused over the July 20 massacre at a midnight screening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, outside Denver -- a crime that revived America's long-running debate about gun control.
Witnesses said Holmes threw smoke bomb-type devices before opening fire randomly with weapons, including an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber pistol.
Last week, defense lawyers filed an unexpected motion offering that Holmes would plead guilty in return for the prosecution not pressing for the death penalty, but agreeing to a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors shot back within 24 hours, accusing the defense of trying to negotiate a plea deal in public, in violation of a gag order on the horrific case.
Colorado currently has three convicted prisoners on death row, but has not executed anyone since 1979.
After Brauchler announced he will seek the death penalty, some people in an overspill room used for victims' relatives showed clear disappointment at the length of time the case will now likely take.
Holmes himself showed no emotion. His parents Robert and Arlene were in court, and at one point she had her face in her hands, while her husband rubbed her back.
When Holmes first appeared in court last year, he had bright orange hair and looked befuddled. He has since let his hair color grow out, and now has curly brown hair and a beard.
Weaver, speaking during a break in Monday's hearing, said victims and relatives had mixed reactions to the announcement that Holmes could face death. "Some were relieved, some had questions, some were disgusted," he said.
"We're hurting .. we have wounds and family members who weren't there for Easter," he added. Asked if he had a message for Holmes, he said: "Be a man and plead guilty, save us the drama."