James Holmes case: Doctor who examined theater shooter felt "blindsided" by bias claims

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

The judge in the Aurora theater shooting case has ordered gunman James Holmes to undergo a second mental evaluation by a different psychiatrist. Holmes was first examined last summer by Dr. Jeffrey Metzner. But prosecutors alleged that Metzner's evaluation contained "numerous deficiencies" and that the doctor himself had an "unfair bias." Last Wednesday, Judge Carlos Samour ruled that Metzner's evaluation was indeed "inadequate." Samour's written ruling also contains several other interesting facts.

Among them:

  • Metzner has a contract with the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, where Samour ordered Holmes to undergo a mental evaluation subsequent to his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Due to a conflict of interest that Samour does not describe in his order (on view below), the CMHIP psychiatrists could not perform the evaluation themselves. So they hired Metzner, who has consulted at CMHIP since 1979.
  • Metzner was given more than 51,000 pages of materials, hundreds of DVDs and hundreds of CDs containing evidence in the case to review as part of his evaluation. That review took approximately one hundred hours.
  • Because of a typo in the index of DVDs, Metzner "did not review some of the defendant's relevant e-mail communications until two weeks after the examination was completed."
  • In addition to reviewing the evidence, Metzner interviewed "numerous witnesses," including "mental health professionals who have interacted with" Holmes.
  • Metzner interviewed Holmes for 25 hours.
  • After the evaluation was complete and Metzner had written his report, prosecutors asked to speak with him. Although Samour's order doesn't say what that discussion entailed, it does say that Metzner was "surprised" by it. According to the order, he testified at a closed-door hearing in January that he felt "blindsided" and "set up" by the prosecutors, who used what he told them to allege that he had an "unfair bias." Metzner didn't feel the meeting was "fair" since he wasn't informed of its purpose ahead of time.
  • Although Samour found that Metzner was not biased at the time of the evaluation, he writes in his order that Metzner is biased now. "At this time, Dr. Metzner appears to view the prosecuting attorneys as adversaries," Samour writes. Metzner testified that he "didn't trust" the prosecution and refused to meet with them prior to the January hearing, though he met with Holmes's defense attorneys three times.

Given that, Samour ruled that Metzner will not perform the second evaluation. He writes that Metzner "was defensive" at the hearing as he "attempted to justify his examination" of Holmes; Samour suspects that given another chance to evaluate Holmes, Metzner would be unable to "resist the temptation" to prove that his initial findings were correct.

But Samour isn't allowing the doctors suggested by the prosecution to do the evaluation, either. Prosecutors wanted Holmes to be evaluated by Kris Mohandie, a psychologist who works with the FBI, and Phillip Resnick, a psychiatrist who "has been involved in just about every high-profile homicide case this country has seen" in recent decades, Samour writes, including those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Continue reading for more on Samour's decision. Both doctors testified at the January hearing at the prosecution's request. In fact, Samour writes in his order that Resnick was "one of the most credible witnesses" he's ever seen. Samour also writes extensively about the deficiencies that Resnick and Mohandie found when they reviewed Metzner's report (they did not evaluate Holmes) -- though those parts of Samour's order are redacted from the public copy and replaced with black bars.

But Samour finds that it would be "inappropriate" to have them conduct the second mental evaluation of Holmes. Both doctors were hired by the prosecution at a high price: Resnick was paid $400 an hour and Mohandie was paid $300 an hour, and Samour estimates that the prosecution has already paid Mohandie more than $45,000.

"It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect Drs. Resnick and Mohandie to be the Court's witnesses and to conduct a neutral compulsory examination," Samour writes.

Instead, he's asked CMHIP to select a "neutral expert" to evaluate Holmes. Samour has ordered CMHIP to select the examiner by March 10 and for that examiner to submit his or her report by July 11. The report will contain just one conclusion: whether Holmes was insane when he killed twelve people and injured seventy more by opening fire inside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora on July 20, 2012. The new examiner has not been ordered to offer opinions as to whether Holmes is competent to proceed -- Samour has said Metzner found that he is -- or whether his mental illness precludes him from being eligible for the death penalty, which the prosecution is seeking.

As explained in our recent cover story, "Mind Games," mental evaluations play a key role in insanity cases. Westword examined several past cases where the defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity and found that every mental evaluation done on the defendant found that he or she was insane at the time of the crime. Defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are sentenced to CMHIP for an indefinite amount of time. The 123 defendants who are currently committed to the hospital have been there for an average of 8.6 years, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services. Since 1995, the department reports that 59 percent of patients have been released.

Holmes was scheduled to stand trial this month, but that date was postponed when prosecutors requested a second mental evaluation. Now that one has been ordered, Samour has scheduled a hearing for Thursday, February 27, to set a new trial date.

Read Samour's entire order below.

Order Re: Motion for Further Examination

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes's cell phone, bank, e-mail records and more can be used at trial, judge rules."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.