CENTENNIAL, Colo. – A second defense expert testified Tuesday that the Colorado theater shooter was so mentally ill that he couldn't tell right from wrong at the time he opened fire on a packed auditorium, killing 12 people and injuring 70.
James Holmes suffered from schizophrenia and delusions and met the legal definition of insanity at the time of the 2012 attack, said Dr. Raquel Gur, head of neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.
Gur is the star witness for the defense team, and her testimony is crucial to the argument that Holmes should be found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed indefinitely to the state hospital.
Prosecutors say he was sane and are seeking the death penalty. District Attorney George Brauchler immediately launched an aggressive attack on Gur's credibility, questioning the accuracy of the notes she took on her meetings with Holmes and suggesting she came to a hasty conclusion about his mental illness and sanity.
Gur interviewed Holmes for 28 hours over two years — more than any other psychiatrist — and studied the spiral notebook where he scrawled elaborate plans for the massacre. But she acknowledged to Brauchler that she wrote her report about her conclusions after the first 13 hours of interviews.
Brauchler also noted that Gur once wrote that trial witnesses can be influenced by the side that calls them to testify. Gur retorted that Brauchler was taking the statement out of context.
Another psychiatrist called by the defense, Dr. Jonathan Woodcock, testified two weeks ago that Holmes didn't know right from wrong. Prosecutors spent nearly two days tearing apart his testimony.
Two court-appointed psychiatrists who studied Holmes in the months and years after the shooting found him legally sane at the time of the attack.
In two days of questioning by defense lawyer Daniel King, Gur said Holmes' thoughts about killing other people had become an uncontrollable storm in his mind in the months before the attack.
He had experienced fleeting thoughts about homicide previously, but he always found refuge in computer games and homework, Gur said.
But after Holmes enrolled in a doctoral neuroscience program at the University of Colorado in 2011, the power of those thoughts "was in some ways like a storm," Gur testified.
Gur said she repeatedly asked Holmes why he did not kill himself instead of others, and he replied that he couldn't bring himself to do it.
When she asked him how he thought the victims and their families would feel, he was shocked. "It was something that he did not consider," she said.
Gur also has evaluated Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 more near Tucson, Arizona, in 2011.
An MRI done earlier this year showed parts of Holmes' brain that affect emotional response were smaller in volume than those of a healthy brain, possibly affecting his ability to make rational decisions, Gur said. Throughout her conversations with Holmes, he seemed flat and emotionless, a possible indicator of schizophrenia.