Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora theater shooting case: Doors closed for James Holmes mental evaluation hearings

Today marks the start of closed-door hearings in the Aurora theater shooting case, during which the lawyers are expected to discuss suspect James Holmes's mental health in detail. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing twelve people and injuring seventy others in July 2012. As part of his plea, he underwent a sanity evaluation at the state mental health hospital. Prosecutors say the results contain "numerous deficiencies." The purpose of the hearings, slated for four days, is to determine whether Holmes will be ordered to undergo a second evaluation.

The results of Holmes's first mental evaluation have not been released publicly. But the experts scheduled to testify at this week's hearings -- including the doctor who conducted Holmes's first sanity evaluation -- are expected to discuss the findings in court. According to Judge Carlos Samour, they are also expected to talk about the contents of a notebook that Holmes mailed to CU psychiatrist Lynne Fenton just hours before the shooting.

In order to keep potential jurors from hearing important evidence before trial, Samour closed this week's hearings to the public, the victims and the media.

"Publicity of the contents of the hearing will inevitably infect a large portion of the jury pool with factual information directly relevant to the main question at trial and one of the primary issues during any capital sentencing hearing: the defendant's mental health on the date of the offenses charged," Samour wrote in an order dated December 20. He wants to prevent potential jurors from forming "preconceived notions" about the case.

Holmes's defense attorneys have said from the beginning that their client is mentally ill. In a court filing in July of last year, they wrote that the former neuroscience graduate student was "in the throes of a psychotic episode when he committed the acts that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries sustained by moviegoers."

When a defendant pleads insanity, Colorado law dictates that the burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant was sane. At trial, the opinions rendered by the doctors who examine the defendant often play a key role in the outcome of the case. In the Holmes case, prosecutors allege that the doctor who performed his first sanity evaluation had an "unfair bias," according to Samour's December 20 order. They're urging the court to order Holmes to undergo further examination by two out-of-state doctors, Kris Mohandie and Phillip Resnick, who've consulted on other high-profile cases.

A separate hearing on Friday will be open to the public. The purpose of the hearing will be to discuss a motion filed by the defense that seeks to exclude from trial any expert testimony regarding crime scene reconstruction. The motion says that FBI investigators used 3-D photography, among other techniques, to reconstruct the crime scene.

"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 writes in its motion, calling such testimony "unreliable."

Read the motion below.

Motion to Preclude Opinion Testimony Re: Crime Scene

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes case: Doctor who did mental evaluation had "unfair bias," prosecutors say."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar