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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.