CENTENNIAL, Colo. – James Holmes was mentally ill but legally sane when he opened fire in a suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 people and wounding scores of others, a court-appointed psychiatrist has testified.
Dr. William Reid was the first expert witness to testify about Holmes' mental state at the time of the July 20, 2012, massacre, which also left 70 people injured. Reid, called as a prosecution witness, said Thursday that despite his mental illness, Holmes didn't meet the requirements to be found insane under Colorado law.
Defense attorneys are expected to call other psychiatrists who will testify that Holmes was insane.
Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Jurors have the final decision, and Judge Carlos A. 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 laypeople that was clear as soon as Reid gave his central opinion from the witness stand Thursday.
Reid, who interviewed a medicated Holmes two years after the 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 defense quickly asked to speak to the judge and requested a mistrial, but their arguments weren't audible. Samour denied the request.
But Samour acknowledged 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.
After a break to discuss defense objections and how best to explain Colorado law on insanity, jurors were brought back in and the judge repeated instructions he has given them previously.
He said the statute defines a defendant as insane if he or she was so mentally diseased or deficient at the time of committing a crime as to be incapable of telling right from wrong, or of forming a culpable state of mind. Samour also told jurors that the measure of right and wrong is determined by society, not individuals.
District Attorney George Brauchler then asked Reid "to be precise" about his findings. The psychiatrist gave the shorter answers, but his conclusion was the same.
Did Holmes have a serious mental illness? "Yes."
Despite that illness, did Holmes have "the capacity to know right from wrong" on July 19 and 20, 2012, the night of the attack? "Yes."
Did Holmes have the capacity to form the intent to act after deliberation, and to act knowingly? "Yes."
And did Holmes meet the legal definition of sanity? "Yes."
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.
Jurors saw and heard some of Reid's videotaped interviews with Holmes on Thursday. In one segment, Holmes tells Reid he sometimes cries before he goes to bed because he regrets the shooting.
Over the next several days, prosecutors plan to show more videos — a total of 22 hours — from the interviews.
Because Holmes 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 Reid to evaluate Holmes after Samour ruled an earlier state-ordered review of his sanity was flawed. On the opening day of the trial, Brauchler said both Reid and Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, who conducted the first evaluation in December 2013, had determined Holmes was legally sane.