Defense lawyers for the gunman accused in the Colorado movie theater massacre revealed in a court filing made public on Friday that their client was a psychiatric patient of a professor at the University of Colorado and that he had sent her a message mailed prior to the shooting.
The lawyers said former graduate student James Holmes was being treated by Dr. Lynne Fenton, a board certified psychiatrist at the university’s Anshutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Col.
The new details are likely to raise questions about whether the trained mental health expert could have – or should have – identified Mr. Holmes as a danger to the community prior to the July 20 mass murder.
The new details also add another layer of mystery concerning a “package” that was discovered at the university on Monday. It had been mailed by Holmes prior to the massacre and was addressed to Dr. Fenton.
Press reports said the package included a notebook with crude drawings and descriptions of an attack.
If accurate, such a notebook might be used by prosecutors to bolster the already significant evidence that Holmes carefully planned his midnight assault on a defenseless audience of moviegoers at the premier midnight showing of the new Batman film. Such evidence of careful premeditation would undercut arguments that Holmes snapped, or went temporarily “postal” prior to and during the shootings.
The notebook might also be useful in identifying a motive behind the attack, and Holmes’ apparent affinity with “the Joker,” a villain in the Batman films.
Holmes colored his hair red before the attack, and reportedly told police he was the Joker.
Holmes’ status as a psychiatric patient was revealed in a motion – filed to the trial judge in the case – accusing prosecutors and/or investigators of leaking privileged details about the package and Holmes’ attempted communication with his psychiatrist to the media on Thursday.
The lawyers, Daniel King and Tamara Brady, are both employed by the Colorado public defender’s office. They asked the judge to impose sanctions against the state, including an order that prosecutors immediately produce to the defense all information and evidence related to the seized package, including the names of everyone with access to the evidence.
“The government’s disclosure of this confidential and privileged information [to the media] has placed Mr. Holmes’ constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury in serious jeopardy,” the lawyers wrote.
Colorado District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester had earlier ordered both sides in the case to sharply limit pre-trial publicity. He issued a brief ruling on Friday, setting a hearing on the improper disclosure issue for Monday morning – Holmes’ next scheduled court date.
The district attorney’s office denied the accusation that it was responsible for any leaks of information. As proof, prosecutors identified four details in earlier media accounts that they said are inaccurate.
One news account said police obtained two search warrants. That also was inaccurate, prosecutors say. They say the police obtained only one search warrant prior to seizing the package.
Third, prosecutors say media accounts suggesting police are examining the contents of the package are inaccurate. “The contents were secured and not examined, and [are being] held for potential in camera review,” the state’s brief says. The reference to “in camera review” means review by the trial judge in a non-public setting.
Prosecutors said the media was also wrong in reporting that Holmes told the police about the package. “While the People have seen this report in the media, the People believe that it is just another inaccurate media report floating adrift in a sea of inaccurate media reports relating to this case,” the prosecutors said.
The district attorney’s office did not stop there. Prosecutors suggested that some reporters may be making information up to flesh out their news reports.
“These factual errors lead the People to believe that there may not even be a ‘law enforcement source’ ‘leaking’ confidential information and that the media is getting information from hoaxers, fraudsters, or maybe from nobody at all by creating fake ‘law enforcement sources’ out of whole cloth,” they wrote. “To put it bluntly, the People are extremely dubious of the media assertions that ‘law enforcement sources’ exist.”
Holmes was a graduate student studying neuroscience prior to his decision to withdraw from the university on June 10. He is expected soon to be charged with 12 counts of first-degree murder and dozens of other counts of attempted first-degree murder.
The shooting rampage at the dark and crowded movie theater in Aurora left 12 dead and 52 wounded. Holmes was dressed in black clothing, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and was armed with tear gas, a shot gun, an AR-15 assault rifle with 100-round magazine, and a pistol.
Prosecutors have not yet announced if they will seek the death penalty.