By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - The University of Alabama denied accused Colorado gunman James Holmes admission to a neuroscience graduate program despite a stellar academic record, with one academic reviewer faulting him for being "difficult to engage," documents showed on Thursday.
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 in July, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
The decision by the University of Alabama at Birmingham is the second known rejection of Holmes by a graduate school in 2011. The University of Iowa also turned him away, with one faculty member advising: "Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances."
One University of Alabama reviewer wrote, "He may be extremely smart, but difficult to engage.
"Hard to tell how interested he is -- maybe he just wasn't interested in my research," wrote the reviewer whose name was blacked out.
The University of Alabama provided the records to Reuters through an open records request. The University of Iowa records were released in August, also in response to a public records request.
The rejection by the University of Alabama is another indication that Holmes, who was ultimately accepted into a neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado, may have shown some early signs of having difficulties socializing despite being a bright scholar.
"Rather shy, but a top notch student," another University of Alabama reviewer wrote. "His personality may not be as engaging as some applicants, but he is going to be a leader in the future."
A third reviewer wrote, "Excellent applicant!"
Holmes' defense attorneys have said their client, who has recently appeared alert in court with dyed red hair fading to pink and orange, suffers from a mental illness and tried to get help, possibly calling the university minutes before the rampage. Since the shooting, Holmes has been held without bond in solitary confinement at the Arapahoe County jail near Denver.
Prosecutors portray Holmes as a young man whose once promising academic career was in tatters after he failed oral examinations in June and one of his professors suggested he might not have been a good fit for the competitive program.
They have said Holmes lost his access to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus after making unspecified threats to a professor on June 12, after which he began a voluntary withdrawal from his program.
Holmes, who faces 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder, also began "a detailed and complex plan" to commit murder and obtain an arsenal of guns and protective armor after being denied access to campus facilities, prosecutors said.
Before he enrolled at the University of Colorado, Holmes had been an honors undergraduate neuroscience major at the University of California, Riverside, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society with a 3.95 grade point average.
There, his classes included a philosophy course in "Ethics and the Meaning of Life," for which he got an A; "Drugs and Behavior," which also earned him an A; and "Brain Control of Bodily Functions," in which Holmes got an unusually low grade of B+, records released by the University of Kansas show.
The documents released by the University of Kansas, which include Holmes' undergraduate transcript, show he applied to a neuroscience graduate program at that school, but that he withdrew his application before the interview stage.
A professor in charge of admissions wrote Holmes in response that his school would "have been most interested" in having him come for an interview.
Holmes wrote in the application that he wanted to become a cognitive neuroscientist with a focus on understanding how human beings "learn and remember."
Records released last month showed that he also was accepted to the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus, but he declined to attend the school.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)