Theater shooter’s ex didn’t sense any real dan­ger

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Maria L. La Ganga maria.la­ganga @la­times.com Twit­ter: @mar­i­ala­ganga

She was James E. Holmes’ first sex­ual part­ner. On date No. 1, they at­tended a fes­ti­val of hor­ror films. He baked an onion-crusted chicken for her on Valen­tine’s Day and lighted scented can­dles in his small apart­ment. He told her he loved her.

To­day, Gargi Datta, the mass shooter’s first and last girl­friend, barely refers to him at all.

Sit­ting in the wit­ness box of Di­vi­sion 201 of the Ara­pa­hoe County Jus­tice Cen­ter, where Holmes is on trial for his life, Datta calls the 27year-old “him” or “he” or, at most, “the de­fen­dant.”

Holmes has ac­knowl­edged killing 12 movie­go­ers on July 20, 2012, and wound­ing 70 more. He faces 166 charges, in­clud­ing first-de­gree mur­der and at­tempted mur­der. He has pleaded not guilty by rea­son of insanity. He could face the death penalty.

Datta and Holmes were both grad­u­ate stu­dents in the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado’s neu­ro­science pro­gram. She sat in front of him in a tough lec­ture class and in­vited him to join a study group in their deeply com­pet­i­tive doc­toral pro­gram.

Datta tes­ti­fied in Holmes’ lengthy trial as a pros­e­cu­tion wit­ness, some­one who knew him at the start of their grad­u­ate pro­gram in 2011 and last saw him two months be­fore he put on protective gear, slung an AR-15 across his chest and blasted his way through a mid­night show­ing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at an Aurora, Colo., mul­ti­plex.

Pros­e­cu­tors must prove to the jury that Holmes was sane at the time of the shoot­ing — that he was a care­ful plan­ner and a stealthy, cold­hearted killer. They are work­ing to de­bunk the de­fense’s po­si­tion that Holmes de­te­ri­o­rated from be­ing so­cially awk­ward to “f loridly psy­chotic” in un­der a year.

Datta painted a pic­ture of a smart but trou­bled twen­tysome­thing, whose sense of hu­mor fell f lat, whose pre­ferred method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion was elec­tronic — Google Chat — and who told Datta he had lost his vir­gin­ity be­fore they met but told a court-ap­pointed psy­chi­a­trist she was re­ally his first. He was, she said, “pretty shy and closed off at school. He wouldn’t go and in­ter­act with other peo­ple.”

“Do you know how much equip­ment he had amassed for a fu­ture crime?” Ara­pa­hoe County Dist. Atty. Ge­orge H. Brauch­ler asked Datta on Thurs­day. “No,” she said. “At any point did you ever per­ceive the de­fen­dant in your opin­ion to be danger­ous?” he asked. “No,” she replied. Datta was also a means of plac­ing into ev­i­dence a se- ries of Google Chat in­stant mes­sages, like the one he sent on March 25, 2012, af­ter they had bro­ken up but when they were still “friends with benefits,” as Brauch­ler de­scribed it.

Holmes mes­saged her about “do­ing evil” and wrote about his phi­los­o­phy of “hu­man cap­i­tal.” She thought, at first, that he was jok­ing.

Ear­lier in the trial, the pros­e­cu­tion played video in­ter­views be­tween Holmes and a court-ap­pointed psy­chi­a­trist in which Holmes de­scribed his phi­los­o­phy and what he had told his girl- friend about it.

“The shoot­ings were sup­posed to in­crease my self­worth,” Holmes told the psy­chi­a­trist. “That would get me out of the de­pres­sion.... I think it was in a text mes­sage I sent to Gargi about hu­man cap­i­tal, how you can place a value on a life and how, if you take life away, it can add to your own value.”

At first, Datta said Thurs­day, “I was think­ing he was just mess­ing with me, jok­ing. Then he starts talk­ing about jus­tice. At that point, I thought, maybe he was se­ri­ous, but it seems to be philo­soph­i­cal.”

Datta said she had no sense that Holmes was a threat, that any attack was im­mi­nent or that he had a plan in place. She said it was the first and only time he men­tioned his phi­los­o­phy. But she was con­cerned enough to show the backand-forth to a mu­tual friend.

“I showed this chat to Ben Garcia,” Datta said. “We were a bit con­cerned. We went to talk with him. We asked if he was talk­ing to his ther­a­pist about the phi­los­o­phy, and he said he was.”

Datta didn’t know that Holmes never did talk about his phi­los­o­phy with his school psy­chi­a­trist, Lynne Fen­ton.

The last time Datta saw him was the end of the school year, May 18, 2012.

Two months later, a dozen peo­ple were dead, 70 were wounded, and her ex-boyfriend was be­hind bars.

“Had you ever seen the de­fen­dant af­ter he tried to mur­der a theater full of peo­ple?” Brauch­ler asked Datta be­fore she left.

“No,” she said.

‘We were a bit con­cerned.... We asked if he was talk­ing to his ther­a­pist about the phi­los­o­phy, and he said he was.’

— Gargi Datta,

Holmes’ for­mer girl­friend

JAMES HOLMES’ ex-girl­friend Gargi Datta char­ac­ter­ized him in court as trou­bled and awk­ward.

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