Colorado movie gunman acted bizarrely in jail, nurse tells trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2015 6:06 PM

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A nurse at the jail where Colorado cinema gunman James Holmes was held after killing 12 moviegoers told his murder trial on Tuesday she saw him acting bizarrely behind bars, including smearing feces on himself, licking walls and eating paper.

Sandra Paggen said she observed Holmes behaving "odd" in the Arapahoe County jail in November 2012, nearly four months after he opened fire inside a Denver-area multiplex during a midnight screening of a Batman film.

Dressed head-to-toe in body armor and wearing a gas mask, Holmes threw a tear gas canister into the packed theater then opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and a .40-caliber pistol. Seventy people were also wounded.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes, a 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, with multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder, and have said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial began in April, and two court-appointed psychiatrists concluded he was sane under Colorado law at the time of the July 20, 2012 rampage.

Prosecutors say Holmes is a methodical mass killer who deserves to be executed. His lawyers say he suffers from schizophrenia, heard voices commanding him to kill, and was not in control of his actions.

Called to testify by the defense, Paggen said she watched Holmes licking a wall, smearing feces on himself, lying naked and motionless on the floor, and not responding to jail staff.

Holmes took lunch meat out of a sandwich, she said, put it between pieces of a flattened paper cup, and ate it.

A jail physician ultimately sent Holmes to a Denver hospital where he was held for several days, often in restraints.

Paggen said when paramedics arrived to take Holmes there, his eyes were bloodshot and it appeared he had been crying.

"(His) eyes were moving around like 'What's going on here?' He was totally scared," she said.

Under questioning by prosecutor Rich Orman, Paggen said Holmes behaved normally most of the time, including showering, exercising, reading, and watching television.

The defense also showed video of Holmes' first appearance in the same courtroom, just three days after the attack, in which he looked wide-eyed, with his hair dyed red.

A deputy who escorted him said Holmes had seemed confused, and that jail staff said he was not medicated at the time.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool)