Colorado shooting suspect tried to call psychiatrist 9 minutes before attack: defence
James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, July 23, 2012. (Denver Post, RJ Sangosti)
Published Thursday, August 30, 2012 8:58PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 30, 2012 9:10PM EDT
CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The suspect in the Colorado shooting rampage tried unsuccessfully to call his university psychiatrist nine minutes before he opened fire during a Batman movie premiere, defence attorneys revealed in court Thursday.
James Holmes placed the call to an after-hours number at a hospital at the University of Colorado, Anschutz campus, where psychiatrist Lynne Fenton could be reached, defence attorney Tamara Brady said.
It wasn't clear why he called Fenton, and she wasn't immediately available to talk to him. Holmes, 24, is accused of opening fire during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
The detail about the call came out during a hearing about his relationship with Fenton, to whom he mailed a package containing a notebook that reportedly contained violent descriptions of an attack.
Prosecutors asked the judge to let them review the notebook as part of their investigation, while defence attorneys argued it was inadmissible because it was protected by doctor-patient privacy laws.
Judge William B. Sylvester ruled that an ongoing doctor-patient relationship did exist between Fenton and Holmes, but he scheduled a Sept. 20 to revisit the notebook issue.
Thursday's three-and-a-half hearing was the longest yet that Holmes has attended. He appeared to pay close attention to the proceedings and smiled at least once as he leaned over to his attorney. Holmes had a light moustache but was otherwise clean-shaven, and his hair was blond and orange.
Brady brought up the call placed by Holmes in an effort to illustrate that Fenton's doctor-patient relationship with Holmes was ongoing. During questioning, Brady asked the psychiatrist if she could be reached at that after-hours number, to which Fenton replied she could.
Brady then asked: "Do you know that Mr. Holmes called that number 9 minutes before the shooting started?"
Fenton responded, "I did not."
Prosecutors noted Holmes also had Fenton's office phone number. He apparently did not try to reach her there.
Fenton testified that she last met with Holmes on June 11, and that she believed they had no relationship on July 19, the day prosecutors say Holmes mailed the notebook. She also said she contacted a campus police officer after meeting with Holmes.
"I communicated with (the police officer) to gather more information on this case and also communicate my concerns," Fenton said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson asked Fenton what information she wanted from police, but Brady objected and the judge barred the question.
University spokeswoman Erika Matich said the school would have no comment on Fenton's testimony, including any details about her contact with campus police.
"Dr. Fenton's testimony stands for itself," Matich said.
Meanwhile, the University of Iowa released records showing it rejected Holmes from a graduate neuroscience program last year after he visited campus for an interview and left the program director bluntly warning colleagues not to offer admission "under any circumstances."
It was unclear why Holmes' application was denied, and university officials wouldn't elaborate. But the application response was yet another window into a complex young man who was viewed as both brilliant and deeply troubled before the July shooting.
Holmes applied to the Iowa program in late 2010 and was given an interview Jan. 28, 2011, according to records released by the university. In his application, he painted himself as a bright student interested in improving himself and helping the world with a career in scientific research.
But two days after Holmes' interview, neuroscience program director Daniel Tranel wrote a strongly worded email urging the admissions committee not to accept him to the school.
"James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," wrote Tranel, a professor of neurology.
Psychology professor Mark Blumberg followed up with a separate email two days later to say he agreed with Tranel about Holmes, one of three students Blumberg interviewed. "Don't admit," he wrote. He recommended admission for the other two.
The emails are among 12 pages of records the university released about Holmes in response to public records requests filed by The Associated Press and other news outlets.
None of the documents further explain why Holmes' application was denied. University spokesman Tom Moore said Thursday that Holmes was academically qualified but officials did not see him as a "good personal fit for our program." He declined to elaborate.
Blumberg said in an email Thursday that he has no specific recollection of Holmes, noting officials interview many applicants each year. Tranel was not granting interview requests Thursday, a spokesman said.
Francesca Reed, marketing and social media chair of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals, reviewed the university's emails for the AP and said it was clear that Holmes left school officials with a very negative impression during the interview. But she noted that could have been the result of anything from his demeanour to his research interests.
"People are going to look at this and start to say, 'He must have displayed some behaviour that was a red flag," she said of Tranel's admonition to colleagues about Holmes. "But if this shooting incident didn't happen, people would look at it differently. Without being on that committee, it's hard to pass judgment."
Admissions officials have no obligation to report potentially disturbed behaviour from prospective students unless it amounts to a direct threat, said Reed, director of graduate admissions at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia,
Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the attack in Aurora.
His rejection from the Iowa school stands in contrast to his previously released application to a similar program at the University of Illinois, where he was offered admission with free tuition and $22,000 per year but declined to enrol.
Holmes said on his Iowa application that he also was applying to Texas A&M, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama and Colorado. He wrote that he had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to study the "science of learning, cognition and memory."
"I have always been fascinated by the complexities of a long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into a stream of awareness," he wrote. "These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research."
Holmes wrote that he was passionate about neuroscience and would bring "my strong moral upbringing" to the program.