Prosecutor grills Colorado movie massacre trial defense expert

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2015 3:13 PM

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The lead prosecutor in Colorado's movie massacre trial attacked the testimony of the defense's star witness on Wednesday, challenging her diagnosis that the gunman, James Holmes, suffers schizophrenia and could not tell right from wrong.

Holmes, 27, could face the death penalty if convicted of killing a dozen people and wounding 70 when he opened fire inside a packed midnight premiere of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" at a Denver-area multiplex in July 2012.

The California native, who dropped out of a neuroscience graduate program at the University of Colorado after failing exams just weeks before the rampage, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Testifying for the defense, Raquel Gur, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Schizophrenia Research Center, told jurors on Tuesday she believes Holmes suffers from schizophrenia and was not in control of his actions.

A "severe defect" in the defendant's brain meant he could not distinguish right from wrong when he committed the crime, said Gur, who once examined Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Arizona mass murderer Jared Loughner.

District Attorney George Brauchler picked over her testimony in detail, calling into question her note-taking and interview methodology, asking why she did not video record her six meetings with the defendant, and querying why it took her almost two years to meet with his parents.

Two court-appointed psychiatrists have testified Holmes was sane when he planned and carried out the attack.

The prosecutor also asked repeatedly why parts of Gur's account of her sessions with the gunman were not written down.

"My report does not include every word that I exchanged with Mr. Holmes," the psychiatrist responded.

"It was difficult to conduct the interview. It was important for me to obtain as much information as I could, and pay attention to him, and encourage him to talk more."

Brauchler said she referenced videos of the defendant acting oddly in custody but asked her if she saw others showing him trying to fashion a club from a handicap bar, attempting to slip out of his handcuffs, and trying to take the cover off an electrical wall outlet. Gur said she could not remember.

The cross-examination often got held up as Brauchler pushed her to give "yes" or "no" answers.

"I know you want me to answer with one word, but it's hard," she replied after one lengthy exchange.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)