© 2024 KGOU
Photo of Lake Murray State Park showing Tucker Tower and the marina in the background
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

James Holmes Psychiatrist Knew About Violent Thoughts, But Not Plan


In Colorado, prosecutors in the Aurora movie theater shooting trial expect to wrap up their case on Friday. James Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for killing 12 people at a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises." This happened three years ago. More than 200 people have taken the stand, including victims, first responders and FBI agents. The prosecution went as far as to recreate the shooting in grisly detail for jurors. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus is following the trial and joins us now. Welcome, Ben.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Now, we know it's not in question that Holmes is the gunman behind the attack. So why has the prosecution gone through the trouble of recreating the crime scene?

MARKUS: That's actually been a point of contention between the two sides in this case. The defense says, hey, we've essentially conceded that he's the shooter by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. But the prosecution and judge say essentially conceding guilt doesn't mean the prosecution still shouldn't put on its full case, and that means proving that he killed 12 people and wounded 70 others that night three years ago.

CORNISH: So does recounting the chaos and the carnage of that night actually aid the prosecution?

MARKUS: So the prosecution is seeking the death penalty in this case. And they want to make it clear to jurors just how awful what happened that night was. And the stories are harrowing. People came to enjoy a movie, and instead, they saw loved ones killed or were maimed themselves. And then you have cops who sometimes are crying on the stand, recounting how they desperately tried to transport dozens of wounded people to area hospitals. And so the district attorney has been careful to have an eyewitness from inside the theater testify at least once a day for the last two months to keep what happened fresh as they lay out their case.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, I understand that the burden is actually on the prosecution in Colorado to prove that Holmes was sane and that that's really the crux of the case.

MARKUS: Right. In the end, there's little confusion as to who committed this crime. The question is, was Holmes insane at the time? Now, earlier jurors heard from two court-appointed psychiatrists who said that he was indeed sane. In fact, jurors watched one video-taped psychiatric exam where Holmes himself admits that he knew what he was doing was legally wrong, that he planned the shooting for a midnight premiere to avoid hurting children. And he expressed remorse when a child was killed. Though, in the coming weeks, jurors are going to hear from at least two defense experts who believe Holmes was actually insane at the time of the attack.

CORNISH: We mention the 200 witnesses that took the stand for the prosecution. And the most anticipated came this week, the psychiatrist of James Holmes. Her name is Lynne Fenton. What did you hear from her testimony?

MARKUS: So she treated him in grad school, and she had a limited number of sessions. About half a dozen times she saw him before he discontinued treatments about a month before the shooting. And she testified that she had no inkling of what he was going to do. He had told her that he wanted to kill people, but he never divulged a target or a specific plan. And those are two things that really would have allowed her to put a psychiatric hold on him. The fact that he kept that information from his psychiatrist was actually used as evidence by other experts in this case to show that he knows the difference between right and wrong, that if he had divulged that plan, he would've probably been locked up. He knew that, and that's why he didn't divulge it.

CORNISH: That's Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus. He's been following the trial of James Holmes. He's charged with killing 12 people in 2012 in a Colorado movie theater. Ben Markus, thank you.

MARKUS: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Markus
More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.