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By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The University of Iowa denied accused Colorado gunman James Holmes admission into a neuroscience graduate program despite stellar test results, with a key faculty member writing, "do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," documents showed on Thursday.

That decision, made in early 2011, stands in stark contrast to decisions by the University of Illinois and the University of Colorado to offer Holmes large scholarships at similar programs at those schools.

The documents, provided to Reuters by the university through an open records request, do not explain why Daniel Tranel, a professor of neurology and psychology and the director of the neuroscience graduate program, opposed admitting Holmes.

But it did show that at least one other professor on the admissions committee concurred with his recommendation.

Holmes, 24, is accused of opening fire at a midnight screening of the new "Batman" film "The Dark Knight Rises" in a suburban Denver theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. He is being held without bond in solitary confinement at the Arapahoe County jail in the Denver area.

Holmes, who began the process of dropping out of the neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado after a year of study just weeks before the rampage, has been charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.

The Iowa application materials, submitted in 2010, show that Holmes had been categorized as "truly exceptional" by one of his professors in a recommendation form, the highest accolade possible.

In an essay accompanying his application, Holmes wrote of his experience working as a summer camp counselor for underprivileged children, where he said he was responsible for kids clinically diagnosed with ADHD, and one child with schizophrenia.

"These kids were heavily medicated but this did not solve their problems, only create new ones," he wrote. "The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn't."

Holmes also wrote about how students at a school he attended when he was younger had to wear uniforms, and described his process of discovering later that the uniforms were designed to curb gang rivalry.

"Looking back, my life could have gone in a completely different direction had I not possessed the foresight to choose the path of knowledge," he wrote.

The application shows that Holmes placed in the top two percent of performers on a standardized verbal ability test, and obtained the maximum possible score on a quantitative thinking test.

Holmes was an honors undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside, where he majored in neuroscience and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society.

The documents were released ahead of a hearing on Thursday in his case on whether prosecutors can have access to a package Holmes mailed to University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton. Defense attorneys say that the contents fall under doctor-client privilege between Holmes and Fenton.

(Additional reporting by Mary Slosson; Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)

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