Aurora theater shooting: FBI analyst found 238 bullet holes and impact marks in theater
After four days of closed-door hearings, Aurora theater shooting defendant James Holmes was back in open court today for a session about whether FBI crime scene analysts who collected data in the theater should be allowed to offer expert testimony at his trial. Brett Mills, an FBI forensic examiner, testified that he found 238 bullet holes and "impacts" -- such as dents in objects hit by bullets -- in Theater 9 of the Aurora Century 16 theater, where a gunman killed twelve people and wounded dozens more in July 2012. Holmes's attorneys have admitted he was the gunman.
Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Earlier this week, Judge Carlos Samour conducted four days of non-public hearings to determine whether Holmes should undergo a second mental evaluation. The results of the first evaluation have not been publicly released. But prosecutors allege that the results contain "numerous deficiencies" and have requested that Holmes be re-examined by two out-of-state doctors.
Samour said he expects to rule on their request within the next few weeks. A trial originally scheduled to begin in February has been postponed.
At the end of today's hearing, Holmes's defense attorneys indicated that they plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of whether New York-based Fox News reporter Jana Winter -- who wrote a story quoting unnamed law enforcement sources as saying that a notebook Holmes mailed to a psychiatrist contained "details about how he was going to kill people" -- should have to reveal those sources in court. Holmes's attorneys subpoenaed Winter because they want to know who "leaked" her that information.
But in December, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that Winter did not have to testify because she is protected by that state's shield law. Defense attorney Tamara Brady told Samour today that the defense plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
The main purpose of today's hearing was to debate a motion filed by the defense that seeks to exclude from trial any expert testimony regarding crime scene reconstruction.
"Mr. Holmes objects to the admission of any and all opinion testimony concerning crime scene reconstruction, including -- but not limited to -- any blood spatter analysis and bullet trajectory analysis that the prosecution intends to introduce at trial through any 'expert' witness," the defense wrote in its motion, calling such testimony "unreliable."
Forensic examiner Mills testified that investigators analyzed the path of the bullets fired in the theater using electronic surveying equipment, 3-D computer mapping technology, lasers and so-called trajectory rods inserted into the bullet holes. He said his analysis concluded that the shots were fired from a corner of the theater near an emergency exit. At a preliminary hearing last year, investigators testified that they believe Holmes bought a ticket for the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012, propped open the emergency exit in Auditorium 9, left the theater and then re-entered through the emergency exit shortly after the movie started, armed with several weapons.
The majority of the bullet holes were "indicative of high-velocity rounds," Mills said.
Another FBI expert, William McPherson, also testified today. As a "visual information specialist," he said it was his job to use a laser scanner to measure the theater in 3-D.
Defense attorney Katherine Spengler cross-examined both Mills and McPherson and tried to poke holes in their methods and conclusions. She questioned the accuracy of their equipment and technology and asked questions about certain aspects of the maps, renderings and photos they created from the data they gathered in the theater. Both men said their methods are reliable and their results are verified when possible.
They also testified that their work is based on the principles of math.
"It's the Pythagorean theorem in the flesh," McPherson said.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.