UCR neuroscience alumni James Eagan Holmes appeared in Arapahoe County Court last week, where his mental cognizance is being questioned in the case of what is being referred to as the “Colorado massacre.” Holmes, who originally identified himself as “The Joker,” is accused of murdering 12 people and injuring 59 others during the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20.
Following one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, Holmes has been charged with 152 felony counts and if convicted, may face the death penalty or a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. Currently detained at the Arapahoe County Jail, Holmes is charged with 24 counts of first degree murder and 118 counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors are pursuing 10 additional charges, as revealed by a court case of register actions, yet the details remain undisclosed due to a court-issued gag order.An exact motive has yet to be determined and a preliminary trial is scheduled for Nov. 6.
Recent focus surrounding Holmes’ notebook may play a key role in determining the mental stability of the suspected murderer. The notebook was allegedly mailed to his Colorado psychiatrist, Lynne Fenton, the day before the shooting occurred. Despite having portrayals of a violent assault, prosecutors halted efforts to obtain his writings as legal evidence, due to persistent delays in proceedings. Arapahoe County District Judge William B. Sylvester also ruled that the notebook was restricted under patient-doctor confidentiality. The last session between Holmes and Fenton took place on June 11—more than a month before the shooting.
“There’s a high degree of likelihood that whatever privilege exists in the notebook will end up being waived by the defendant,” stated Arapahoe District Attorney Rich Orman, with the assumption that Holmes’ attorneys will claim a mental illness defense.
Defense attorneys assert that Holmes originally sought psychological help due to a phone call that Holmes made to Fenton just seven minutes before the shooting. Fenton was unavailable at the time and said she was oblivious to the timing of events. On the other hand, district attorneys argue that continual therapy was unlikely, due to clear indications that Holmes planned on death or imprisonment prior to the attack. In reference to his online dating profiles, Holmes posted pictures of himself with the statement, “Will you visit me in prison?” reported the Denver Post.
The side that loses may seek to freeze the trial and file an immediate “interlocutory appeal” to the California Supreme Court, stated prosecuting attorney Orman. After a ruling has been confirmed, this appeal can be made before the case is closed, yet most jurisdictions will only allow such an action under special circumstances including claims of immunity.
Confirmed by the UCR Registrar’s Office, Holmes attended UCR in the fall of 2006 and graduated with honors in the spring of 2010. Earning a B.S. degree in neuroscience, Holmes continued his studies at the University of Colorado’s Ph.D. program. Days after failing a critical oral examination, Holmes dropped out of school and proceeded to go on a shooting rampage just six weeks later. According to USA Today, prosecutors pointed to his introverted personality and emotional distress about his failed oral examination as a possible breaking point and a probable cause behind the violent massacre.
“He didn’t strike me as creepy or as someone who would do something like that. Everyone that knew him from UCR that I’ve spoken to is in total disbelief,” stated former UCR student Janine Gharghoury in a City News Service interview. “No one expected that from him.”