Bloomberg News

Theater Gunman’s Attorney Cites Mental Illness at Hearing

January 09, 2013

A lawyer for the man accused of fatally shooting 12 people at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, said in court a mentally ill person can legally buy some of the items her client allegedly bought before the attack.

During the second day of a hearing over whether James Holmes should stand trial for murder, defense attorney Tamara Brady was cross-examining a federal agent yesterday over his testimony that Holmes went to local stores and Internet sites before the July 20 shooting to buy two Glock handguns, a shotgun, a rifle and 6,295 rounds of ammunition.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Steven Beggs, responding to Brady’s questions, said that a “severely mentally ill person” wouldn’t be barred by law from obtaining some items Holmes had bought, such as chemicals and handcuffs.

Holmes, who studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, is charged with first-degree murder, which can carry the death penalty in Colorado, and more than 100 counts of attempted murder. Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester will determine whether there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial at the conclusion of this week’s preliminary hearing in state court in Centennial,

Another defense lawyer on Jan. 7 argued that a person who pleads not guilty by reason of insanity is legally different from others who commit homicide. Under questioning by attorney Daniel King, a coroner who did autopsies on six victims after the shooting said his definition of homicide was “clinical,” not legal, and that he had not drawn a conclusion as to the perpetrator’s state of mind.

Guns, Ammunition

Yesterday, when Beggs recounted a timeline of guns, ammunition and chemicals Holmes had purchased for his attack, Brady objected, arguing the court had already heard “extensive testimony” about the materials. Prosecutor Karen Pearson said she needed to prove that Holmes acted with “deliberation and extreme indifference,” and that an account of what preceded the shooting was important.

Holmes’s preliminary hearing follows a Dec. 14 massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that left 28 dead, including the gunman, his mother and 20 children. Separately, Aurora police this weekend stormed a house after a standoff with another gunman and found four dead bodies, including the gunman’s, the Associated Press reported.

Aurora police detective Randy Hansen testified yesterday that 41 calls to 911 came in within the first 10 minutes of the shooting. The words exchanged on one call played in court were inaudible as gunshot blasts sounded. Hansen said he counted at least 30 shots in the 27-second call.

Bomb Technician

Garrett Gumbinner, a bomb technician for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, yesterday described an elaborate series of homemade explosives Holmes had rigged at his Aurora apartment, in an attempt to set off an explosion or fire that would distract police from the theater. The items included a tripwire, homemade napalm and carpet soaked with gasoline and oil.

Prosecutor Rich Orman presented testimony that Holmes took out ads at dating websites match.com and adultfriendfinder.com. On the dating websites, Holmes asked potential suitors, “Will you visit me in prison?,” according to the testimony.

Under questioning yesterday from defense lawyer King, Aurora police detective Craig Appel explained that Holmes was taken to the police department and had paper bags placed over his hands to preserve any gunshot residue for testing. Appel said an officer reported Holmes moving his hands in a “talking puppet motion.”

Holmes was placed in a room, drank some water from a Styrofoam cup and tried to flip it, and pulled a staple from a table and tried to stick it in an electrical socket, according to Appel.

The case is People v. Holmes, 12-cr-01522, 18th Judicial District Court, Colorado (Centennial).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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