* Judge: Preliminary hearing may be put off until January orFebruary
* Defense complains media meddling is delaying their work
* Former neuroscience graduate student accused of killing 12in attack
(Adds details on rampage from civil lawsuit)
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 incidents of gun violence inrecent years, killed 12 people and wounded 58.
"The defense investigation has been impeded because of theconduct of the media," defense lawyer Daniel King said in court,adding that media motions for wider access to court filings hasbeen distracting, and some witnesses have gone underground.
"We haven't begun to understand the nature and depth of Mr.Holmes' mental illness," he said.
Holmes appeared in court handcuffed and shackled, andwatched the proceedings largely without reaction. He had grownthe beginnings of a beard and mutton-chop sideburns, with notrace of the red hair dye he sported at his arrest in July.
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.
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 weapons as part of amass murder plot. The night of the rampage, he bought a movieticket then slipped outside, armed himself and returned to thetheater where he sprayed moviegoers with gunfire, they said.
Holmes stopped shooting when one of his guns jammed, afterwhich theater lights remained dim and the movie continued toplay, according to a civil suit filed on Thursday againstCinemark USA, which owns the theater where the rampage occurred.
The suit, filed by three people hurt in the shooting and thefather of 18-year-old Alexander Boik, who was killed, said thetheater provided insufficient security and seeks damages fornegligence and wrongful death.
Cinemark, owned by Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings Inc, did not immediately respond to a request for comment,but has said it could not have foreseen or prevented the"criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky."
In court on Thursday, Holmes' lawyers complained that hisright to a fair trial had been jeopardized when someone in lawenforcement 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 rampage, according to a Fox News report.
"We need to flush out who called the media," defenseattorney Tamara Brady said in court, adding that she wanted toknow who had access to the package when it was being examined.
Holmes' lawyers, who analysts have said may be laying thegroundwork for an insanity defense, have said Holmes suffersfrom mental illness and tried to get help before the shooting.
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" by the defense, noting the motion does notidentify 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.
(Additional reporting by Robert Boczkiewicz and Mary Slosson;Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and EricWalsh)
((Cynthia.email@example.com)(702 280 0094))
Keywords: USA SHOOTING/DENVER