Aurora Shooting Trial: 10 New Things From 22 Hours of James Holmes Psychiatric Evaluation Interviews

Jurors watched the psychiatric interviews of the accused Aurora theater shooter.

June 5, 2015, 1:04 AM

— -- The jury in the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting trial slowly stood from their chairs and walked out of the courtroom Thursday afternoon, likely happy for a break.

They had just finished watching 22 hours of video interviews of James Holmes talking to court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. William Reid. The viewing took six days, and since the defendant will likely not testify, it is the only time the five-man, 19-woman jury will hear from him. It's Reid's job to assess the accused gunman's state of mind the night of July 19 to July 20, 2012, when Holmes drove his car to the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” changed into battle gear, and opened fire on moviegoers out for the midnight showing.

Reid conducted the interviews two years after the shootings, July 30 to Aug. 1, 2014 at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. They spoke again on Aug. 27 and 28, this time at the Arapahoe County Jail where Holmes has been held since the shooting. Reid asserts that Holmes is mentally ill, but that he knew right from wrong when he opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. The defendant maintains he has schizophrenia and was suffering from a psychotic delusion the night of the killings. He has plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

But Holmes’ public defenders will have to contend with Reid, a key witness, who said Thursday that though he has determined that the gunman suffered from mental illness, he does not suffer from true delusions.

"Was the defendant mentally sane on the night of July 19th to the 20th of 2012?" asked District Attorney George Brauchler.

Reid gave a look to the hushed jury. "Without meaning to usurp the jury's job, and it's a tough job," he answered, " I believe he was."

Lots of new information has emerged in the 22 hours of video interviews. Here are 10 notable findings:

1. Diagnosis: Holmes Isn’t Schizophrenic, Doctor Says

Reid's professional opinion is that Holmes is not schizophrenic, nor did he have a psychotic breakdown the night of the shooting, as the defense contends. Instead, Reid diagnosed the shooter with a mental illness called "schizotypal personality disorder," which is characterized by his difficulty relating to people and constricted behavior. Reid says the shooter knew right from wrong when he committed the murders.

PHOTO: An overhead view of activities at the Century 16 theater east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., July 20, 2012.
An overhead view of activities at the Century 16 theater east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., July 20, 2012.
David Zalubowski/AP

2. The Shooting Didn’t Lift Holmes Out of Depression

Holmes himself says he killed to increase his own self-worth, which he hoped would lift him out of depression. He told Reid that this did not work. He was still depressed after the shooting, but he felt his own self-worth increased a point for every person he killed. Holmes calls this his theory of "Human Capital." Could this be considered a psychotic delusion, as the defense contends?

"It is an abstract thought,” explained Reid. Holmes could not say that he believed his own theory was real; therefore, Reid says it was a false belief and "though there were aspects of delusion in them, they did not rise to the level of outright delusion." The defense has a psychiatrist who will testify later that Holmes did indeed suffer from a psychotic delusion.

3. He Enjoys Leonard on ‘The Big Bang Theory

He identified with the character of Leonard on “The Big Bang Theory,” played by Johnny Galecki.

4. Holmes Is Divided on the Death Penalty

The defendant says he is "50-50" on whether he gets life in prison or the death penalty. At first he wanted to be locked away, but his freedoms are restricted in prison, so the death penalty does not sound like such a bad idea after all.

5. He Wasn’t Dressed Like The Joker

Holmes did not dye his hair red to symbolize The Joker, the popular villain in the Batman universe. He dyed his hair red sometime in the weeks leading up the shooting because "red suggests bravery."

Still, the inmates who pass by his cell call him "The Joker." Said Holmes, "They kind of turned me into a super villain. At least I'm remembered for doing something."

PHOTO: In this July 23, 2012, file photo, James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo.
In this July 23, 2012, file photo, James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Holmes was being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and facing additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations stemming from the mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 and injured 70 others.
RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via AP Photo

6. Holmes’ Special Talent: Reciting the Alphabet Backward

The defendant doesn't communicate with other inmates at the Arapahoe County Jail, but when he was flown to the state mental health facility, he had several conversations with staff who work there. They soon found out that he has a special talent, which he taught himself on long car rides as a child: he can recite the alphabet backward. Reid asked him to do it during the evaluation and he did with no trouble.

7. He Saw Shadows and Axes

The killer says he was seeing shadows – he sometimes called them "flickers" – out of the corner of his eye. He said the images were fighting each other with axes and guns. Holmes also said he heard voices, which is serious symptom of schizophrenia. But the voices, Reid explains, were not telling him what to do. In the interviews, the defendant said the voices were talking about him from another room. When he was a child, the shooter says he was afraid of "Nail Ghosts," which would come out of the wall in his bedroom at night.

8. His ‘Alternative to Nuclear Winter’ Philosophy

The defendant was not on medication from the night he was arrested on July 20th, 2012 up until he had a breakdown in jail in mid-November of that year.

During that time, he wrote a lot about his philosophy of life. The titles? "Identifying the Philosophers AKA 'The Insanes,'" "Utraception" and "The Destruction Law." The latter is an effort to eliminate mankind. "It's the opposite of societal law," he wrote, "Every two people you kill, you're allowed one child." Under this law, people who don't kill can't have children. "It's an alternative to nuclear winter," the gunman calmly told Reid.

Holmes is currently taking five medications, including Risperidone, Lexapro and Vistaril.

PHOTO: People enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the second day of the trial of the Aurora movie theater massacre defendant James Holmes in Centennial, Colo., April 28, 2015.
People enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the second day of the trial of the Aurora movie theater massacre defendant James Holmes in Centennial, Colo., April 28, 2015.
Brennan Linsley/AP

9. Holmes Shared His Thoughts With Girlfriend

There was a serious girlfriend for six months with whom the gunman shared some of his most intimate thoughts. They eventually broke up, but In a text message he told her, "Killing is considered evil by society." She encouraged him to get therapy and recommended a social worker. Margaret Roth saw him only once before she sent him to psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, but said he was "the most anxious person I have ever seen."

10. He’s Read the ‘Game of Thrones’ Books

The shooter is a sci-fi fan and during his first set of interviews with Reid, he was reading “A Dance with Dragons,” the fifth novel in George R.R. Martin’s book series that inspired the HBO show “Game of Thrones.”

The defendant was seen by upwards of 20 psychiatric professionals, according to his attorney, Dan King. The prosecution is expected to call more mental health professionals to testify about his condition and will wrap up sometime in the last week of June. Then the defense will take a month to put on its case.

If Holmes is found guilty, the sentencing phase is expected to take another month. The trial may not wrap up until Labor Day.

Meghan Keneally contributed to this report.

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