Colorado movie gunman suffers schizophrenia, expert testifies

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2015 3:06 PM

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The star witness for the defense in Colorado's movie massacre trial told jurors Tuesday that gunman James Holmes suffers schizophrenia and still believes he boosted his "human capital" by killing a dozen people in the July 2012 rampage.

Under Colorado's death penalty law, prosecutors must prove the former neuroscience graduate student was sane when he opened fire inside a midnight premiere of a Batman film at a cinema near Denver with a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol. Seventy other people were wounded.

Holmes' attorneys were expected to wrap up their case this week after calling on hospital and jail staff, former colleagues of Holmes from a California pill-coating factory, and a succession of psychiatrists and psychologists who studied him.

The defense team has been building up to their most high profile expert witness, Raquel Gur, director of the Schizophrenia Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gur, who once examined Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Arizona mass shooter Jared Loughner and has published some 400 peer-reviewed papers, met Holmes in jail for six sessions totaling 28 hours between December 2012 and August 2014.

"In my professional opinion it is schizophrenia. All the characteristics of schizophrenia were present at the time of the commission of the crime," she told jurors.

"A severe defect in his brain, in his mind, rendered him not capable of distinguishing right from wrong."

Trying to build a rapport with the defendant during their first encounter was like "pulling teeth," Gur added, and she sensed he was afraid of her. "He told me he was," she said.

Prosecutors say Holmes aimed to kill all 400 people in theater nine at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, and say he planned and carried out the rampage because he lost his girlfriend, career and purpose in life.

'DELUSION PERSISTS'

His lawyers say he heard voices in his head commanding him to kill, and that he was not in control of his actions. They say Holmes believes he added to his "human capital," or worth, through the murders.

"The delusion persists ... to this day," Gur said.

Two court-appointed psychiatrists have told jurors they concluded that, while the defendant is seriously mentally ill, he was legally sane when he planned and carried out the attack.

Gur said she agreed to take the case after the defense gave her a copy of a journal sent by the gunman to a school psychiatrist. Since then, she said, she has studied about 100,000 pages of materials including police interviews, other doctors' evaluations, and Holmes' emails and online chats.

She also interviewed his parents, Arlene and Bob, she said.

During hours of confident and effusive testimony, Gur told jurors that other psychiatrists had been "amazed" by how much more she could get out of some patients than they had.

She said that during her evaluations, the theater gunman had mostly presented a disconnected emotional "flatness." But Gur said he once displayed an "unusual level" of emotion when she asked about his time in high school.

"His face was red. He didn't cry, but his lips were pursed like this," she said, before huffing and puffing loudly. Holmes later told her he felt "paralyzed" by those memories, she said.

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