James Holmes case: Dr. Lynne Fenton's trial by media fire
Much of the media's focus in the second wave of reporting on the Aurora theater shooting has been on Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist revealed to have cared for accused killer James Holmes. Recent coverage has whip-sawed from Fenton tributes supported by CU documents on view below to claims she could have asked for a mental health hold on Holmes but didn't. Thanks to a gag order, however, we only know a small part of the story.
Fenton's name first appeared in a July 27 document filed by Holmes's defense team. Several days later, strangely enough, part of the filing pertaining to their doctor-patient relationship was censored -- and Holmes's attorneys want pretty much everything that went on between them ruled off limits. But, to put it mildly, the news was already out.
Shortly thereafter, word came that Fenton had been disciplined by a state board in 2005. But while the headlines made this action seem like a big deal, her ex-husband, Steffan Andrews, who's still friendly with her, revealed that the matter was actually quite minor. According to him, a former employee accused of prescription fraud tried to implicate her in wrongdoing, but the only violations investigators could find after a long inquiry involved things like providing him Claritin for hay fever and some Ambien after a European vacation without keeping proper charts.
Shortly thereafter came reports that Fenton had alerted a CU threat-assessment team about Holmes in the weeks before the attack. More recently, 7News quoted sources saying she could have asked for Holmes to be put on a 72-hour mental-health hold in early June but didn't -- an assertion elaborated on in a fascinating New York Times piece.
The Times reports that Holmes allegedly texted an acquaintance about a condition called dysphoric mania, a condition associated with bipolar disorder that seldom produces violence but can occasionally cause some patients to experience agitation and "paranoid delusions" -- after which he warned her to stay away because he was "bad news." Additionally, the paper cites an anonymous official as saying, "Nothing Mr. Holmes disclosed to Dr. Fenton rose to the threshold set by Colorado law to hospitalize someone involuntarily."
James Holmes during the only court hearing to date that has allowed photography.
Against this backdrop, the Denver Post published a long article about how well-liked and respected Fenton is -- and there's certainly nothing in the documents CU has released about her to contradict the impression. The school is under orders not to share anything directly related to Holmes or the case, but it has offered up Fenton's complete employment file, an inclusive series of documents featuring everything from a letter about her residency at Northwestern in the late 1980s to her curriculum vitae.
The latter details her education (University of California Davis, Chicago Medical School), professional gigs (she was a medical acupuncturist in Greenwood Village for a time), instructional lectures (among them "Pain -- Diagnosis and Treatment"), honors and awards (she won a "Medal of Commendation" from the Air Force in 1993) and papers she's authored or co-authored (like 1990's "Prevention of thromboembolism after spinal cord injury using low-molecular-weight herapin").
What do these facts have to do with the Holmes case? Little, if anything, in all likelihood. But they're some of the only concrete details we have about Fenton, who's an intriguing figure in this case partly because she may never be able to share everything she knows -- which would be fine by those defending James Holmes.
More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Reference to James Holmes being psychiatric patient censored."
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