Prosecutors drop fight for notebook from accused Colorado shooter

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 20, 2012 12:08 PM
Prosecutors drop fight for notebook from accused Colorado shooter

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Prosecutors dropped their legal fight on Thursday for access to a notebook that accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes sent to a university psychiatrist before the shooting, saying legal wrangling over it would delay the case for months.

Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is accused of opening fire on July 20 at a midnight screening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, a Denver suburb. Twelve people were killed and 58 wounded in the attack.

"There's a high degree of likelihood that whatever privilege exists in the notebook will end up being waived by the defendant" should Holmes' lawyers pursue an insanity defense, prosecutor Rich Orman said during a hearing on the issue.

Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester also approved 10 new felony charges of attempted first degree murder filed by prosecutors against Holmes, 24, and allowed 17 current charges to be amended.

But Sylvester has ordered nearly all court filings in the case sealed, and the exact changes were not immediately clear as the documents outlining them were redacted.

A spokeswoman for the District Attorney's office declined to clarify the new and amended charges, citing a gag order. A spokesman for the court also declined to comment.

Holmes already faced 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder. Under Colorado law, the doubling of charges allows prosecutors two potential pathways to secure a conviction.

Orman said at a hearing last month that Holmes bought a ticket to the midnight screening, then left the theater through an exit door he propped open on his way out. Holmes then put on a gas mask and ballistic protective gear before returning to the theater and spraying the crowd with gunfire, Orman said.


Holmes appeared in court on Thursday with close-cut brown hair, leaving no trace of the orange mop of curly hair that had marked his appearance following his arrest. He looked around the courtroom more than in earlier appearances, but was not very expressive during the hearing.

"This was a bad day for James Holmes because it may have taken a year off his life," a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice, Craig Silverman, said of the hearing, noting Holmes is eligible to face the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors have not indicated if they will pursue capital punishment.

University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton testified at an earlier hearing that she treated Holmes more than a month before the rampage, but that their professional relationship had ended before he mailed the package to her a day before the massacre.

Holmes' lawyers said the package and its contents were confidential and should not be seen by prosecutors. The defense team can analyze the notebook only under rigorous evidence collection precautions, including wearing gloves and face masks.

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Prosecutors have depicted Holmes as a young man whose once promising academic career was in tatters as he failed graduate school oral board exams in June and one of his professors suggested he may not have been a good fit for his competitive Ph.D. program.

They have said that 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.

They said Holmes began "a detailed and complex plan" to commit murder and obtain an arsenal of guns and protective armor after he was denied access to campus facilities.

Holmes' attorney Daniel King, who analysts said appeared to be laying the groundwork for a possible insanity defense, has said his client suffers from an unspecified mental illness and had tried to get help before the shooting.

Previous media reports have said Fenton reported her concerns about Holmes to a campus threat assessment team and a campus police officer.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)