On Wednesday, we shared reports that suspected Aurora theater shooter James Holmes had sent a CU psychiatrist a notebook of attack plans and drawings. But if it exists, that item is off-limits, and so are all other typically public records related to the grad student under an order signed by Judge William Sylvester on Monday but only released late yesterday. Read it below.
Why the delay? Thus far, the court hasn't offered an explanation. But in all likelihood, the reason has to do with the speed at which events in this case have rushed forward. Note that in the motion for such an order filed by the 18th Judicial District DA's office, also shared here, the name of district attorney Carol Chambers is misspelled as "Chambrers."
In that document, which is undated but obviously preceded the Monday order, since its text is included in it, Chambers's office notes that "the Defendant was previously enrolled in the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus in a neuoscience graduate studies program. As of June 12, 2012, he was in the process of voluntarily withdrawing from the University of Colorado."
On July 21, the day after the massacre at the Century 16 in Aurora, a CU representative contacted the DA's office noting that media organizations had started the procedure to request material under the Colorado Open Records Act -- not educational records but "electronic documents such as the defendant's e-mail communications on the University and similar information."
Under CORA, all public records "shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times," the motion points out. However, the DA's office didn't think that was a good idea, even though prosecutors were still in the dark about what was in them. "The People have not had access to the defendant's records from the University of Colorado, but are of the belief that disclosure of such records to the media would be contrary to the public interest," the motion asserts.
In his response, Sylvester, the 18th Judicial District's chief judge, agrees. He writes: "This court orders that the University of Colorado shall not disclose information about the defendant pursuant to CORA."
The order goes on to stress that the DA's office and the legal team representing Holmes will be able to see all this stuff, but that's it won't be made available to the wider public until the court vacates this decision or the final judgement of the case is rendered, whichever comes first.
This move actually preceded Sylvester's order banning cameras from Holmes's next hearing on Monday, when he's expected to face formal charges. The judge had allowed cameras at Holmes's initial court appearance on the 23rd -- a session that precipitated a flurry of media speculation about the suspect's mental condition (owing to his dazed expression and nodding demeanor). Presumably, the judge would like to do all he can to prevent a repeat of this frenzy -- and keeping Holmes's e-mails out of the public eye for now seems similarly motivated. Access to materials has already been tight, but it's getting tighter.
Here's Sylvester's motion, followed by the request from Chambers's office.