Mental health will take focus in theater shooting trial
CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AP) — Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting trial are steadily moving toward the heart of their case: the testimony of two court-appointed doctors expected to say James Holmes was sane when he opened fire on a packed midnight showing of a Batman movie.
The first month of Holmes’ death penalty trial has been dominated by dramatic and emotional accounts of survivors, technical testimony from investigators, and the recollections of Holmes’ neuroscience professors and classmates, who said he never seemed detached from reality. But the next two weeks of their case will be more focused on Holmes’ mental health when he committed one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, District Attorney George Brauchler said.
Brauchler promised to show jurors days’ worth of interviews with Holmes by psychiatrists William Reid and Jeffrey Metzner. Both doctors determined Holmes suffered mental illness but was sane when he killed 12 people and wounded 70 others, Brauchler said.
Holmes’ lawyers disagree, saying his mind was so distorted by schizophrenia that he could no longer tell right from wrong. They plan to call at least two doctors of their own who also interviewed Holmes and found he suffered from a serious psychotic illness.
It will be the first glimpse into Holmes’ mental state during the shooting, as a far-reaching gag order has kept those details secret since the July 2012 attack.
Jurors will use the information in deciding whether to find Holmes not guilty by reason of insanity. If they do, he would be sent indefinitely to a state psychiatric hospital. Prosecutors are urging them to find Holmes guilty and sentence him to be executed.
Brauchler told Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. last week that he expects the second half of the prosecution’s case to be contentious. Defense attorneys so far have cross-examined few prosecution witnesses — and none of the 51 victims who have testified — but that will change when mental health professionals take the stand.
A spiral notebook containing Holmes’ detailed plans for the shooting and other ramblings will also be on display as the prosecution continues. Holmes used the notebook to describe his “longstanding hatred of mankind,” Brauchler said in opening statements.
Jurors could also hear from Lynn Fenton, a psychiatrist who treated Holmes at the University of Colorado and expressed concerns about him to campus police after he sent her threatening text messages.
Even without their testimony, prosecutors have been trying to show that Holmes was sane. They have called 144 witnesses and shown 2,085 pieces of evidence. Last week, they presented Holmes’ financial and tax documents from around the time of the shooting, arguing his meticulous record-keeping runs counter to defense claims that Holmes couldn’t tell right from wrong.
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