* Judge: Preliminary hearing may be put off until January orFebruary
* Defense complains media meddling is delaying their work * Former neuroscience graduate student killed 12 in attack
(Updates with details from hearing)
By Keith Coffman
CENTENNIAL, Colo., Oct 11 (Reuters) - Attorneys for accusedColorado gunman James Holmes on Thursday proposed postponing apreliminary hearing on the merits of the case against him,likely until next year, while complaining that media meddlingwas delaying their work.
Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester,responding to defense plans to file a motion seeking a delay inthe sensational case, said the hearing could occur in January orFebruary.
Holmes, a 24-year-old former neuroscience graduate student,is accused of opening fire inside a suburban Denver movietheater during a midnight screening of the Batman movie "TheDark Knight Rises" on July 20.
The rampage, one of the worst outbursts of U.S. gun violencein recent years, killed 12 people and wounded 58.
"The defense investigation has been impeded because of theconduct of the media," Holmes' lawyer Daniel King said in court,arguing that responding to media motions for wider access tocourt filings in the case has been distracting, and somewitnesses have gone underground to avoid media attention.
"We haven't begun to understand the nature and depth of Mr.Holmes' mental illness," he said, citing distractions.
Holmes appeared in court handcuffed and shackled, andwatched the hour-long proceedings largely without reaction. Hehad grown the beginnings of a beard and mutton-chop sideburns,with no trace of the red hair dye he sported at his arrest inJuly.
Discussion of delaying the preliminary hearing follows amotion filed by prosecutors on Tuesday to beef up the chargesagainst Holmes by adding 14 additional counts of attempted firstdegree murder, court records show.
Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts foreach victim in a move that could give them more than onepotential pathway to secure convictions.
Holmes faces 24 counts of first-degree murder and appears toface 140 attempted murder counts, although redactions in thecourt record have obscured a precise accounting of the charges.
SPARRING OVER MEDIA LEAKS
Prosecutors have depicted Holmes as a young man whose oncepromising academic career was in tatters. He failed graduateschool oral board exams in June, and a professor suggested hemay not have been a good fit for his competitive PhD. program.
Prosecutors accuse Holmes of amassing an arsenal of weaponsas part of a plan to commit mass murder. The night of therampage, he bought a movie ticket then slipped outside, armedhimself and returned to the theater where he sprayed moviegoerswith gunfire, they said.
King, who analysts have said appears to be laying thegroundwork for a possible insanity defense, has said his clientsuffers from an unspecified mental illness and had tried to gethelp before the shooting.
In court on Thursday, Holmes' public defenders complainedthat his right to a fair trial had been jeopardized when someonein law enforcement leaked details of a package Holmes sent to apsychiatrist, in violation of a gag order imposed by the judge.
The parcel purportedly contained a notebook detailing plansfor the theater rampage, according to a Fox News report.
"We need to flush out who called the media," defenseattorney Tamara Brady said in court, adding that they wanted toknow who had access to the package when it was being examined.
Holmes' lawyers, who are asking the judge to imposesanctions on prosecutors for the disclosures, said they havereceived 16,000 pages of documents they say support their beliefthat the government side leaked the information.
Prosecutors retorted that they were unable to respond to the"vague allegations" made by the defense, noting the motion doesnot identify the specific information that public defenders arecomplaining about, or if the media reports were even true.
Sylvester did not rule on the dispute, and will hear morearguments about the leak at a hearing on Oct. 25.
(Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and EricWalsh)
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Keywords: USA SHOOTING/DENVER