Tag Archives: james holmes murder trial

Schizophrenia Expert Witness Testifies for James Holmes Defense

Defense attorneys for Colorado theater shooter James Holmes called a psychiatry expert witness to the stand this week to testify that the defendant suffered from schizophrenia at the time he committed the crime.  Before the expert could testify at open trial, attorneys for both sides debated her qualifications to offer her opinion during trial.

James Holmes Defense Calls Psychiatry Expert Witness

Throughout his murder trial, Holmes’s attorneys have argued that he was legally insane because he was in the midst of a psychotic episode at the time of the 2012 attack on a crowded Colorado theater.  In an effort to convince jurors that their theory of Holmes’s insanity is correct, they called Dr. Raquel Gur as a schizophrenia expert witness earlier this week.  Dr. Gur is a professor of Psychiatry Neurology and Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and she has been hired as a consultant for Holmes’s defense.

Dr. Gur is not a licensed and practicing forensic psychiatrist, however, she is a lead researcher in schizophrenia and psychiatry who has conducted hundreds of psychiatric interviews during the course of her career.  Dr. Gur is also no stranger to serving as an expert witness, and she has been asked for her opinion about a number of high profile offenders including the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner, who shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six bystanders in a case that did not.  Dr. Gur has testified as an expert during a number of criminal trials, and has offered pre-trial diagnosis in several other cases.

Despite her history as an expert witness in criminal cases, Dr. Gur faced stiff opposition from prosecutors who questioned her ability to add relevant testimony about whether or not Holmes was legally insane at the time of the shooting incident.

Colorado Prosecutors Challenge James Holmes Expert Witness

Before being allowed to take the stand as a psychiatry expert witness, Dr. Gur was asked pointed questions about her qualifications by District Attorney George Brauchler, who took the expert to task for not having forensic psychiatry experience or being a licensed clinical psychiatrist.  Dr. Gur consistently maintained that she had the research background and expert witness experience necessary to answer questions about Holmes’s mental state at the time of the shooting because she has interviewed hundreds of clients and conducted years of research on the effects and diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Attorney Brauchler also opposed the introduction of Dr. Gur’s power point slides into evidence, complaining that the defense had failed to provide prosecutors with the slides with sufficient advanced notice.  During a long hearing earlier this week, the parties closely reviewed each of Dr. Gur’s proposed slides and her CV to argue about what she will be allowed to say during trial.  Despite objections of the prosecution, Judge Carlos Samour allowed Dr. Gur to testify and present most of her slides to aid the jurors understanding of Holmes’s mental state at the time of the shooting.

Holmes Psychiatry Expert Witness Takes the Stand

After a contentious vetting process, Dr. Gur took the stand to explain to jurors that James Holmes suffered, and continues to suffer, from schizophrenic delusions that committing the atrocity would raise his “human capital” and make him become a more valuable person.  Dr. Gur conducted more than 28 hours of interviews with Holmes in a two-year period following his July, 2012 shooting, and testified that the defendant showed lack of emotional response and an inability to make rational decisions, which could indicate he suffers from schizophrenia.  After hearing Holmes speak about the shooting incident in the months that followed, Dr. Gur testified that in her expert opinion he was unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the shooting and was qualified for the insanity defense under Colorado law.

Dr. Gur’s testimony directly contradicts two prosecutorial expert witnesses who testified earlier in the trial that Holmes was not legally insane because he could distinguish right from wrong.  As the trial continues in the coming days, prosecutors will likely make a strong effort to discredit Gur on the stand and call her testimony into question during cross-examination.  After almost 45 days of trial, the defense is expected to conclude its case this week leaving only closing arguments before the matter goes to a jury for verdict.

Expert Witness Testifies in James Holmes Mass Shooting Trial

After several weeks of hearing from witnesses and police who explained how James Holmes carried out the 2012 attack on a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, jurors in the case were finally presented with testimony about his mental state when a prosecution expert witness took the stand to affirm that Holmes was legally sane at the time of the shooting.  Holmes is on trial for the murder of 12 people, and his mental state at the time of the attack will factor heavily into the jury’s verdict.

James Holmes on Trial for Opening Fire in Colorado Theater

In July of 2012, James Holmes entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a showing of the hit Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, and opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd of roughly 400 people.  Holmes’ shooting resulted in the death of 12 people and injury of 70 others, and he was subsequently arrested and charged for his crimes.  After years of investigation, the Holmes mass-shooting trial began last month with the defendant facing a number of charges, including capital murder.  Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity while prosecutors contend that he was not insane and deserves to face the death penalty for his crime.

Prosecutors opened their case by presenting eyewitness testimony and gruesome crime scene photos to demonstrate not only the severity of Holmes’ attack, but also the precision with which he planned the shooting and his subsequent escape.  Prosecutors allege that the defendant was fully aware of what he was doing, knew that he was engaging in serious criminal conduct, and therefore he does not satisfy the legal requirements of an insanity defense.  After presenting evidence of the scene, prosecutors collaborated their position by calling a mental health expert witness who spoke with Holmes at length in the immediate aftermath of the defendant’s incarceration to testify that he was legally sane at the time of the shooting.

Prosecution Expert Witness Testifies to James Holmes’ Sanity

Because Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury’s opinion on his mental state at the time of the shooting will be critical to the outcome.  To validate their argument that James Holmes was legally sane at the time of the shooting, prosecutors called Dr. William Reid as a psychiatry expert witness.  Dr. Reid spent over 22 hours with Holmes over the course of 9 interviews shortly after his arrest, and took the stand last week to tell jurors that the defendant did suffer from a mental illness, but was legally sane under the definition of sanity used by criminal law.

The legal standard for insanity does not turn on mental illness, but instead evaluates whether or not the defendant had the capacity to know right from wrong, and was aware of the legal consequences of his actions. Pointing to portions of his session with Holmes, Dr. Reid told jurors that he exhibited remorse for his actions, and made statements of regret when asked about the shooting.  Although the sessions came after the shooting, Holmes demonstrated knowledge that his actions were wrong, which calls to question his claims of insanity.

While on the stand, Dr. Reid told jurors of Holmes, “My opinion is that he did not — is that, whatever he suffered from — it did not prevent him from forming the intent and knowing what he was doing and the consequences of what he was doing.”  Dr. Reid’s expert testimony went on to inform jurors that the defendant satisfied the requirements of legal sanity because Holmes was able to understand the gravity of the shooting. Reid’s expert testimony served two critical roles: first, it informed jurors that the legal definition for insanity was not satisfied, and second, it broke the connection between mental illness and legal insanity that could have otherwise caused confusion for jurors.

Holmes’ Attorneys Question Prosecution Expert Witness

Although the prosecution’s use of Dr. Reid as an expert witness may prove to be effective, the content of the testimony also raises questions that could come up should Holmes be convicted and later file an appeal.  Defense attorney Daniel King protested Reid’s testimony largely because the prosecution asked their expert witness to make a conclusion about Holmes’ mental state specifically within the confines of the legal definition of insanity.  While this line of questioning was allowed by the judge, it toes the line of permissible use of expert witnesses because Dr. Reid arguably made a factual conclusion within the standards of the law which is a job typically left up to jurors.