CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Prosecutors in the Colorado theater shooting trial will continue vigorously cross-examining a defense psychiatrist who concluded James Holmes was so psychotic that he could not tell right from wrong when he killed 12 people during a packed movie premiere.
District Attorney George Brauchler on Thursday asked a flurry of questions that doubted Dr. Jonathan Woodcock's conclusion that Holmes was seriously delusional around the time of the July 20, 2012 attack. Woodcock will take the stand again Friday, after a day in which the prosecutor questioned his credibility as a forensic psychiatrist and tore into his two-hour interview with Holmes, which took place in the jail four days after the attack.
He said he quickly knew Holmes had long-suffered a serious mental illness that made him emotionally flat and very anxious. Woodcock was among the first witnesses when the defense began presenting its case Thursday in an effort to show Holmes was legally insane at the time of the shooting, which also wounded 70 people.
If jurors agree, Holmes would be committed to a state mental hospital indefinitely. Prosecutors are asking jurors to convict him and sentence him to death.
Because prosecutors bear the burden of proof in Colorado insanity cases, Brauchler sought to quash any doubt about his case that Holmes planned and carried out the shooting, all while knowing it was wrong.
The jail visit with Holmes was not intended for Woodcock to form an opinion on Holmes' sanity but rather to see if Holmes was competent to stand trial.
In response to Brauchler, he acknowledged that his independent recollection of the interview was vague, his notes were sometimes spotty and he did not press Holmes on some key points.
The prosecutor questioned whether the doctor was skeptical of Holmes answers, which he characterized as self-serving. An investigator from the defense team was in the room during Woodcock's interview and likely knew he was facing a capital case, Brauchler said.
Still, Woodcock held to his finding that Holmes was insane. That's in contrast to two other, court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Holmes in the months and years after the shooting and found him mentally ill but capable of knowing right from wrong — Colorado's definition of legal sanity.
Before the shooting, Holmes was clearly distressed by the worsening symptoms of his mental disorder, which brought anxiety and pushed him to drop out of his stressful neuroscience program, Woodcock said.
Holmes told the doctor he began experiencing problems as early as middle school. He started thinking of killing other people as a way to ease the discomfort of his own suicidal thoughts, Woodcock testified.
But Brauchler said any mental problems Holmes had seemed not to substantially impact his life. In response to the prosecutor's questions, Woodcock said he did not know Holmes had been going to the gym regularly, nor did he know that he hadn't missed many classes. Holmes told him he experienced catatonia, or periods of immobility, but tried limit it to certain times of the day.
"He tried to fit his catatonia in over lunch?" Brauchler asked, in an exchange that caused some jurors to smirk.
"That's what he told me," the doctor said.
When Woodcock tried to elaborate, Brauchler cut him off, telling him, "you'll get a chance to clean this up" upon further defense questioning.