Prosecutors press doctor who found theater shooter insane
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting trial are pressing a psychiatrist who is testifying for the defense that James Holmes was psychotic and could not tell right from wrong when he killed 12 people at a packed movie premiere.
District Attorney George Brauchler grilled Dr. Jonathan Woodcock on Friday to throw doubt on his conclusion that Holmes was seriously delusional around the July 20, 2012, attack.
The prosecutor on Thursday questioned the doctor’s credibility as a forensic psychiatrist and tore into his two-hour interview with Holmes, which took place in jail four days after the shooting that also wounded 70 people.
Woodcock said he quickly knew Holmes had long-suffered a serious mental illness that made him emotionally flat and very anxious. He was among the first witnesses when defense attorneys began presenting their case in an effort to show Holmes was legally insane at the time of the attack.
If jurors agree, Holmes would be committed to a state mental hospital indefinitely. Prosecutors are asking jurors to convict him and sentence him to death.
Prosecutors in Colorado bear the burden in insanity cases, so Brauchler sought to quash any doubt that Holmes planned and carried out the shooting, while knowing it was wrong.
The psychiatrist’s jail visit with Holmes was not intended for Woodcock to form an opinion on Holmes’ sanity but rather to see if he was competent to stand trial.
Woodcock acknowledged Thursday that his independent recollection of the interview was vague, his notes were sometimes spotty and he did not press Holmes on some key points.
The prosecutor questioned whether the doctor was skeptical of Holmes’ answers, which he characterized as self-serving. An investigator from the defense team was in the room during Woodcock’s interview and likely knew he was facing a capital case, Brauchler said.
Still, Woodcock held to his finding that Holmes was insane. That’s in contrast to two other, court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Holmes in the months and years after the shooting and found him mentally ill but capable of knowing right from wrong — Colorado’s definition of legal sanity.
Before the shooting, Holmes was clearly distressed by the worsening symptoms of his mental disorder, which brought anxiety and pushed him to drop out of his stressful neuroscience program, Woodcock said.
Holmes told the doctor he began experiencing problems as early as middle school. He started thinking of killing other people as a way to ease the discomfort of his own suicidal thoughts, Woodcock testified.
But Brauchler said any mental problems did not seem to affect Holmes’ life substantially. In response to the prosecutor’s questions, Woodcock said he did not know Holmes had been going to the gym regularly or had not missed many classes.
Holmes told Woodcock he experienced catatonia, or periods of immobility, but tried to limit it to certain times of day.
“He tried to fit his catatonia in over lunch?” Brauchler asked Thursday, in an exchange that caused some jurors to smirk.
“That’s what he told me,” the doctor said.
When Woodcock tried to elaborate, Brauchler cut him off, saying, “You’ll get a chance to clean this up” during defense questioning.
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