At core of James Holmes trial: How severe is defendant's mental illness?

James Holmes attorneys wrapped up their defense in the Colorado theater shooting trial on Friday. Both sides are expected to make closing arguments on Tuesday.

Colorado Judicial Department/AP
In this image taken from Colorado Judicial Department video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, upper left in blue shirt, joins others in standing as the jury, not pictured, is brought into the courtroom, during Holmes' trial in Centennial, Colo., Friday. The defense in the Colorado theater shooting trial rested its case Friday after trying to show James Holmes was legally insane when he carried out the deadly 2012 attack, suffering from delusions that each person he killed would increase his self-worth.

Defense lawyers trying to keep gunman James Holmes from receiving the death penalty finished their case on Friday hoping to have convinced jurors that he was legally insane when he committed the Colorado movie massacre.

Mr. Holmes’ lawyers admit that he did kill 12 people and wound 70 others on July 20, 2012 when he opened fire inside a crowded movie theater. Nevertheless, they say that he was not in control of his actions at the time due to schizophrenia.

The star witness in the defense’s case was Raquel Gur, director of the Schizophrenia Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dr. Gur spent four days on the stand defending her opinion that Holmes was legally insane when he committed the crime.

"He was not capable of differentiating between right and wrong," Gur said on Thursday. "He was not capable of understanding that the people that he was going to kill wanted to live."

Two court appointed psychiatrists, however, have concluded that Homes was sane when he committed the crime, although they concede that he is severely mentally ill.

On Friday the defense played jurors videos of the defendant naked and running head-long into a cell wall and thrashing around in restraints at a hospital.

The outcome of the trial could determine whether the insanity defense is useful, experts say. Furthermore, legal experts have noted that it may be the first time a Colorado jury has had to weigh the insanity defense in a death penalty case.

“If jurors agree he was insane at the time of the shooting, he will be committed to a state psychiatric hospital. If not, they will have to determine his sentence: life without possibility of parole or the death penalty,” the Monitor’s Amanda Paulson wrote in April.

Throughout the trial, Holmes has displayed almost no reaction to individuals who took the stand. He would occasionally turn his head to watch videos of himself played on a court television, reporters noted. 

The prosecution has said that it will not perform any rebuttals and attorneys from both sides of the case are expected to deliver their closing arguments on Tuesday.

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