Theater shooting defense lawyer clashes with psychiatrist

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Posted: Jun 18, 2015 5:56 PM
Theater shooting defense lawyer clashes with psychiatrist

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes' lawyers are pointedly questioning whether a psychiatrist did enough to diagnose and treat Holmes before he carried out a deadly attack on a Colorado movie theater.

Defense attorney Rebecca Higgs sparred Thursday with Dr. Robert Feinstein (FYN'-steen), who met with Holmes twice at the request of another psychiatrist.

Holmes had sought treatment from the other psychiatrist because he said he was having homicidal thoughts and suffered from anxiety.

Feinstein said Holmes didn't let on that he was buying weapons and planning to kill people. Feinstein repeatedly said he didn't have enough evidence to have Holmes detained on a psychiatric hold.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack.

Prosecutors say he was sane and should be convicted and executed.

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The jury in the Colorado theater shooting trial will be allowed to hear emotional details from a survivor who was paralyzed and suffered a miscarriage in the attack and whose 6-year-old daughter was killed.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. also ruled Thursday that prosecutors can show jurors a photo of the 6-year-old, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, but only for a few seconds.

Attorneys for gunman James Holmes had argued forcefully to severely limit the testimony of Veronica's mother, Ashley Moser, saying it would unfairly bias the jury because the details are so heart-wrenching and emotional. Veronica was the youngest to die in the shooting.

"The point of (showing Veronica's photo) is so Ashley will start crying, as would any mother," defense attorney Tamara Brady said. "Everyone in this courtroom will be heartbroken. ... That's the point of showing the picture."

Samour said jurors already saw Veronica's photo once.

"I'm going to allow the people to show it, but literally for 3 seconds," Samour said, using the legal term "people" for prosecutors.

Jurors were not in the courtroom during the arguments over Moser's testimony or when Samour announced his decision.

Samour agreed to bar some testimony, including Moser's last words to her daughter. He also limited the details she could relate about her struggle to recover, including relearning how to use a spoon and go to the restroom.

Moser is expected to testify Friday as prosecutors wrap up their case. Her account is certain to be an emotional conclusion to eight weeks of often dramatic testimony woven in with crime-scene evidence and statements from psychiatrists about Holmes' sanity.

Prosecutors are asking jurors to convict Holmes and sentence him to die.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and injuring 70 during a midnight showing of a Batman movie on July 20, 2012. Of the injured, 58 were hit by gunfire and 12 were hurt in the scramble to escape.

Defense lawyers are scheduled to begin their case June 25. They told the judge they need two weeks. They want Holmes to be committed to the state mental hospital.

The defense on Thursday cross-examined Dr. Robert Feinstein, who testified that he believed Holmes could make rational decisions after a therapy session on June 11, 2012. Feinstein testified earlier that neither he nor another psychologist at the University of Colorado-Denver, where Holmes was a graduate student, had enough information about any threat of violence by Holmes to warrant placing a protective hold on him.

In his ruling Thursday, Samour said Moser could testify that she was excited to be pregnant, and that she left Veronica with a babysitter earlier on the day of the shootings while she got an ultrasound scan.

She also can testify that when she took Veronica to the theater, she was under the mistaken impression that the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," was a cartoon.

"I think Ms. Moser is entitled to explain why she brought a 6-year-old child to a midnight showing of a movie," Samour said. He said that when Moser realized it wasn't a cartoon, she thought, "Oh, my god. I hope Veronica won't be scared."

Moser also will be able to testify that when she was shot, she fell onto Veronica and couldn't tell if her daughter was breathing.

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Associated Press Writer Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.