CENTENNIAL | James Holmes’ lawyer said in court Thursday the accused theater shooter is mentally ill, but they aren’t sure just how mentally ill he is.
Public Defender Daniel King said defense attorneys have received 2,677 pages of evidence from the prosecution, but they are still waiting on photographs, videotaped interviews and other pieces of evidence in the case.
That additional evidence is crucial, King said, because without it, “we as a defense cannot begin to assess the nature or depth of Mr. Holmes’ mental illness.”
King made the comment during a hearing about whether the court would unseal some documents in the case.
Legal experts have said since the July 20 shootings that left 12 dead and 58 injured at the Century Aurora 16 theater that Holmes’ defense team would likely plead insanity. King’s comments marked the first time in open court Holmes’ defense team has discussed a possible mental illness.
Holmes appeared in court wearing a red jail smock with what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest underneath. His dyed orange hair faded slightly since his arrest and he appeared not to have shaved since his arrest.
As with his previous two court appearances, Holmes didn’t show any emotion Thursday, even when a woman in the gallery unexpectedly stood up and told the judge she had information “vital to his defense.”
The woman, who had a shaved head and was holding a spool of blue ribbon and several manila envelopes, said she had tried to contact Holmes’ lawyers but had been rebuffed.
Court deputies escorted the woman from the court room after Chief Judge William Sylvester asked her not to interrupt again.
The victims and their family in the courtroom appeared angry with the woman’s outburst, with one man saying “it’s a circus in here, man.”
Sylvester did not rule on the motion from the media seeking to unseal several court documents, but both the prosecution and defense argued against unsealing the bulk of them. It’s not clear when he will rule on the media’s motion, but he said he hoped to rule on some matters raised by the media before Monday.
King said the media’s access to the case already was “unprecedented,” with cameras being allowed in court for Holmes’ first appearance and some documents being released publicly.
Deputy District Attorney Jacob Edson said he understood the public’s desire for more information in the case, but said it was too early in the investigation to release more information.
“Just not now, not at this stage,” he said.
As for when documents could be unsealed, Edson said they should be open to the public when the investigation is “at a satisfactory point.”
Some victims and their families are questioning whether that argument will change the trial’s focus to him rather than his actions.
“They keep talking about fairness for him,” said Shane Medek, whose 23-year-old sister Micayla Medek died in the July 20 shootings. “It’s like they’re babying this dude.”
Miranda Norris, who was in a theater next to the one where the shooting occurred during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, saw Holmes in person for the first time at the Thursday hearing. “He seems like he’s crazy,” the 17-year-old said.
“It doesn’t give him the right to do what he did,” added Chris Townsond, who attended the court hearing with a wounded victim. “I don’t care how mentally damaged he is.”
King said Holmes sought out university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton for help weeks before the shooting. A hearing was scheduled for Aug. 16 to establish they had a doctor-patient relationship.
Holmes has shown hints that he understood what’s going on in the courtroom around him. He looked up at the ceiling and furrowed his brow as a woman in the spectator section disrupted the hearing Thursday. He glanced over at her when deputies escorted her out.
Medek said Holmes made eye contact with him. During previous hearings, Holmes had avoided looking at anyone in the courtroom.
“He gave me a little smirk, as well,” Medek said. “I’m happy for that. ‘Cause now he knows that I’m going to be looking at him as he sits there in court, or sits there all drugged up in a mental hospital. Or gets the injection.”
Holmes’ public defenders could argue he is not mentally competent to stand trial. It was the argument used for Jared Loughner, who pleaded guilty this week to a 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
If Holmes goes to trial and is convicted, his attorneys can try to stave off a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill or argue he’s innocent by reason of insanity. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.