Holmes ‘was rather off,’ doc­tor says

Psy­chi­a­trist tes­ti­fies Colorado killer shared homi­ci­dal thoughts but not a plan.

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

Dr. Lynne Fenton, the psy­chi­a­trist who treated James E. Holmes longer than any other men­tal health pro­fes­sional, was sup­posed to shed light into the far reaches of the mass shooter’s brain in tes­ti­mony ex­pected to prove key to the lengthy trial.

In­stead, she seemed as cau­tious as her tight-lipped for­mer pa­tient, whom she de­scribed on the wit­ness stand Tues­day as “con­temp­tu­ous, de­valu­ing, eva­sive, guarded, hos­tile, sus­pi­cious and un­co­op­er­a­tive.”

Fenton headed the stu­dent men­tal health ser­vices at the Univer­sity of Colorado’s An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus, where Holmes, now 27, was pur­su­ing a grad­u­ate de­gree in neu­ro­science.

Holmes was seen by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als at the cen­ter eight times in 2012 be­tween March 16, when he first walked in, and June 11, when he cut off ther­apy just weeks be­fore strap­ping on pro­tec­tive gear, sling­ing an AR-15 across his chest and blast­ing his way through a sub­ur­ban Den­ver movie theater.

From his first ap­point­ment with a so­cial worker and con­tin­u­ing through­out his ther­apy, Holmes said he was fix­ated on killing peo­ple. Although he was stock­pil­ing weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and gear the en­tire time he was be­ing treated, Fenton said he never once talked about a plan for car­ry­ing through on his de­sires.

“Had the de­fen­dant told you that he’d been pur­chas­ing weapons, cho­sen the theater, bought hand­cuffs, would you have made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion” about his treat­ment? Ara­pa­hoe County Dist. Atty. Ge­orge H. Brauch­ler asked Fenton.

“I would have had in­for­ma­tion that he didn’t just have homi­ci­dal thoughts, but that he had a plan and in­tent to carry out those thoughts,” Fenton said. “I likely would have put him on a men­tal health hold and con­tacted the po­lice.”

“But he never told you any­thing?” Brauch­ler asked. “No,” Fenton re­sponded. On July 20, 2012, at a mid­night show­ing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Holmes killed 12 peo­ple and wounded 70 oth­ers in one of the worst mass shoot­ings in Amer­i­can history.

Mar­garet Roth was the so­cial worker who eval­u­ated Holmes and re­ferred him to Fenton for ther­apy. On Tues­day, the psy­chi­a­trist said Roth de­scribed the shooter as “one of the most anx­ious peo­ple she ever had seen.”

“She thought he had ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der,” Fenton tes­ti­fied. “He had thoughts of killing peo­ple. But she didn’t think he was im­mi­nently dan­ger­ous.”

Fenton, who re­peat­edly ref­er­enced her case notes while tes­ti­fy­ing, said Holmes was seek­ing help for what he de­scribed as anx­i­ety around other peo­ple. He had re­cently bro­ken up with his first se­ri­ous girl­friend, she said, and he told her that he had re­la­tion­ship prob­lems.

“He said, and I am go­ing to read this, be­cause I have a quote, ‘I don’t have re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple. They have re­la­tion­ships with me,’ ” Fenton re­counted. “I asked him a lot about his back- ground. He de­scribed how, when he was 10, he got glasses, and, af­ter that, he wanted to over­come his bi­ol­ogy.”

In re­sponse to ques­tions from Brauch­ler, Fenton painted a pic­ture of a se­cre­tive, tightly wound young man whose “think­ing was rather off.”

“I sus­pected he might have a per­son­al­ity dis­or­der,” she said, some­thing along the lines of a “schizoid or schizo­ty­pal” dis­or­der, and that he would ben­e­fit from an­tipsy­chotic drugs.

She said he never talked about the sys­tem of “hu­man cap­i­tal” that he dis­cussed dur­ing 22 hours of recorded in­ter­views with a court-or­dered psy­chi­a­trist af­ter he pleaded not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity to the Aurora, Colo., rampage.

Dur­ing those in­ter­views, which were played for the jury, Holmes de­scribed this sys­tem as a means of mak­ing him­self feel bet­ter by killing: “I just des­ig­nated ar­bi­trary value of like one to each per­son. One value unit.... As a hu­man be­ing they have this value, and I take that value.... I in­creased my self­worth, and I didn’t have to die.”

When Fenton pressed Holmes about the homi­ci­dal thoughts that led him to seek help, he talked about how break­ing up with his girl­friend caused an in­crease in his “ob­ses­sive thoughts about women,” she said. “He added fur­ther that he had three cat­e­gories about ob­ses­sive thoughts, one that had to do with women, one with men, one with ev­ery­one.

“I tried to get more in­for­ma­tion,” she said, “but he would not give more de­tails.”

She did, how­ever, say that those ob­ses­sive thoughts were all about killing.

Brauch­ler, who must prove that Holmes was sane at the time of the shoot­ing, pressed Fenton re­peat­edly about her pa­tient’s de­meanor. The pros­e­cu­tor asked whether, at each ap­point­ment, Holmes was neatly dressed, punc­tual, com- ported him­self well, never had an out­burst. He asked whether the de­fen­dant an­swered emails, spelled well, man­aged his af­fairs.

“Yes” was Fenton’s mono­syl­labic re­ply.

Fenton and the univer­sity have been sued in civil court for not plac­ing Holmes on a psy­chi­atric hold and pre­vent­ing the mas­sacre.

While cross-ex­am­in­ing Fenton on Tues­day, de­fense at­tor­ney Ta­mara Brady em­pha­sized that Holmes was con­sis­tent in telling men­tal health providers that he had homi­ci­dal fan­tasies and they in­creased over time.

She also worked to con­vince the jury that neat­ness and in­san­ity are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

Brady: “You didn’t tell his mom he was hav­ing thoughts of killing peo­ple three to four times a day?” Fenton: “No.” Brady: “Does men­tal ill­ness pre­clude some­one from be­ing fru­gal?”

Fenton: “Not nec­es­sar­ily.”

Brady: “Does it pre­clude some­one from an­swer­ing email?”

Fenton: “Not nec­es­sar­ily.”

Brady: “Does it pre­clude some­one from spell­ing cor­rectly?”

Fenton: “Not nec­es­sar­ily.”

Brady: “Can smart peo­ple be men­tally ill?

Fenton: “Yes.”

RJ San­gosti Pool Photo

JAMES HOLMES had ob­ses­sive thoughts, his col­lege psy­chi­a­trist said.

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