Aurora Theater Shooting

James Holmes case: Doctor who did mental evaluation had "unfair bias," prosecutors say

Prosecutors in the Aurora theater shooting case say the mental evaluation conducted on suspect James Holmes contains "numerous deficiencies," and they allege that the doctor who performed it, Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, had "an unfair bias." They'd like Holmes to be re-examined by two experts that they've chosen.

Those are among the revelations contained in an order (on view below) issued by Judge Carlos Samour. The judge will hold a hearing on the prosecution's request, but the public won't be allowed to attend.

The hearing is scheduled to start on January 27, 2014. Four experts are expected to testify and their testimony will likely consist of the most detailed information revealed in court thus far about Holmes's mental health. But Samour has decided that the information also has the potential to prejudice prospective jurors and thus, has closed the proceedings to the public, the victims of the shooting and the media.

Holmes is accused of killing twelve people and injuring seventy more by opening fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora on July 20, 2012. This past June, the 26-year-old former University of Colorado neuroscience student pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

In a court filing in July of this year, Holmes's defense attorneys admitted he was the gunman but said he 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."

Holmes subsequently underwent a sanity evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo to determine three things: whether he is competent to stand trial, his sanity on the date of the offense and how any mental disease he may suffer affects any mitigating factor in the death penalty law. The evaluation was conducted by Metzner, a University of Colorado psychiatrist who has written about mental illness and the prison system.

Samour's order, which is dated December 20, says that Metzner's 69-page report about Holmes's sanity concludes that Holmes is competent to stand trial. However, prosecutors are contesting Metzner's findings related to Holmes's sanity on the date of the offense and how any mental disease he may suffer affects any mitigating factor in the death penalty law. Samour's order does not say what those findings were.

But it does say that prosecutors want Holmes to be re-evaluated by two experts of its choosing: Dr. Kris Mohandie and Dr. Phillip Resnick. According to their curricula vitae (also on view below), Mohandie is a California psychologist who works with the FBI and local police departments, and Resnick is an Ohio psychiatrist and a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Both have consulted on numerous criminal cases.

Many of Mohandie's previous cases involve murders of police officers and suicide-by-cop. But his curriculum vitae shows that he has testified at many trials where the defendant claimed to have mental health issues and has conducted several sanity evaluations.

Resnick has consulted on several high-profile cases, including those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. In 2006, Resnick testified that Texas mother Andrea Yates was insane when she drowned her five kids, and a jury agreed. He's also taught workshops, given presentations and written articles on the insanity defense, according to his curriculum vitae.

Metzner, Mohandie, Resnick and another expert to be called by the defense, Dr. Robert Hanlon, are expected to testify about about "myriad details" from Metzner's evaluation of Holmes, as well as the contents of a notebook that Holmes mailed to CU psychiatrist Lynne Fenton just hours before the shooting, according to Samour's order.

Samour writes that while he believes the media plays an important watchdog role when it comes to criminal court proceedings, allowing the media to report on the testimony given at the January hearing could impair Holmes's right to a fair trial.

"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 writes. The concern, he adds, is that prospective jurors "will form preconceived notions about the case."

The hearing is expected to last up to four days.

Continue to read Samour's order, as well as the curricula vitae of Mohandie and Resnick.

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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

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