The man who killed 12 strangers and wounded scores of others in a suburban Denver cinema was mentally ill but legally sane, a court-appointed psychiatrist has testified.
Prosecutors called Dr William Reid to testify as they painted a portrait of James Holmes as a calculating, if unstable, killer – an image defence attorneys will try to destroy with their own complex narrative.
Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Jurors have the final decision, and Judge Carlos Samour Jr has repeatedly told them they may ignore all the expert testimony if they wish.
The case turns on legal subtleties, presenting a challenge for lay people that was clear as soon as Reid gave his central opinion from the witness stand on Thursday.
Dr Reid, who interviewed a medicated Holmes two years after the 2012 shooting, declared that whatever mental illness Holmes had, “it did not prevent him from forming intent and knowing the consequences of what he was doing”.
The defence quickly asked to speak to the judge and requested a mistrial, but Mr Samour denied the request.
Dr Reid acknowledged that much had changed between the attack and his interview. He said Holmes suffered a “physical and mental breakdown” in November 2012, five months after his arrest, when he was treated at a Denver hospital and began taking anti-psychotic and other medications.
Dr Reid said that in order to get a picture of Holmes at the time of the shooting, he spent 300 hours reading reports from other mental health experts who had examined Holmes, talking to the defendant’s friends and parents and watching videotapes of him in jail in the days immediately after the attack.
Jurors saw and heard some of Dr Reid’s videotaped interviews with Holmes on Thursday. In one segment, Holmes tells Dr Reid he sometimes cries before he goes to bed because he regrets the shooting.
Holmes had just dropped out of a graduate neuroscience programme before the attack. Because he pleaded insanity, prosecutors have to prove he was sane, and therefore guilty, at the time of the attack. Prosecutors want him executed, not sent to a mental hospital.
Officials at the state mental health hospital asked Dr Reid to evaluate Holmes after Mr Samour ruled that an earlier state-ordered review of his sanity was flawed.
On the opening day of the trial, District Attorney George Brauchler said both Dr Reid and Dr Jeffrey Metzner, who conducted the first evaluation in December 2013, had determined Holmes was legally sane.
While denying the defence request for a mistrial, Mr Samour acknowledged Dr Reid came close to offering an opinion not simply on whether Holmes was capable of understanding right from wrong, as he is legally allowed to do, but strayed into an area that is up to the jury – deciding the defendant’s exact state of mind on the night of the massacre.