Defense lawyers argue Colorado shooting suspect mentally ill

FILE - James Holmes appears in court at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in this July 23, 2012 file photo in Centennial, Colorado. (AFP PHOTO/POOL/RJ SANGOSTI)

CENTENNIAL, Colorado: After defense lawyers disclosed their belief that the Colorado theater shooting suspect was mentally ill, victims and their families asked whether that argument would change the trial’s focus to him rather than his deadly 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.”

James Holmes is accused of opening fire in a movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58. His lawyers disclosed their belief that he suffered from a mental illness during a court hearing Thursday, when nearly two dozen news organizations asked a judge to unseal case documents. Defense attorney Daniel King argued that the seal and a sweeping gag order ensure fairness.

Analysts expect the case to be dominated by arguments over Holmes’ sanity, and the defense’s revelation was the strongest confirmation so far that mental illness would be a key issue. A court document previously revealed that Holmes had been seeing a school psychiatrist for unknown reasons.

Holmes, a 24-year-old former Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Denver, sat during the hearing with the dazed demeanor that he had in two previous court appearances.

“It doesn’t give him the right to do what he did,” said Chris Townsond, who attended the court hearing with a wounded victim. “I don’t care how mentally damaged he is.”

King said he had 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’ lawyers could argue he is not mentally competent to stand trial. If he goes to trial and is convicted, his attorneys can try to avoid a possible death penalty by arguing he is mentally ill. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

Few details are known about the case because of the seal and gag order issued by the judge. AP and 20 other news organizations Thursday asked him to scale back the order, which bars the university from releasing details about Holmes. Steven D. Zansberg, an attorney representing the news consortium, said state law allows judges to issue gag orders.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2012, on page 9.




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