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James Holmes Was Sane During The Aurora Movie Theater Shooting, Psychiatrist Says

William Reid was the first of several mental health experts expected to testify in the trial. Jurors also heard the first part of an interview taped in 2014 in which Holmes said he has regrets about the shooting massacre.

Posted on May 28, 2015, at 10:16 p.m. ET

POOL / Reuters

A court-appointed psychiatrist testified Thursday that while James Holmes suffers from severe mental illness, he met the legal definition of sanity when he entered an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater in 2012 and began shooting, killing 12 people.

"My opinion is that whatever he suffered from, it did not prevent him from forming the intent and knowing what he was doing, and the consequences of what he was doing," William Reid said.

Reid's assessment was unexpected in court; defense attorneys unsuccessfully moved for the judge to call a mistrial. Ultimately, the judge reviewed the legal definition of insanity with the jury, and District Attorney George Brauchler said prosecutors would be careful to avoid any "missteps" in future testimony.

Reid was the first psychiatrist to testify in the trial of Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 12 counts of murder and 70 counts of attempted murder. In coming to his conclusion, Reid said he spent 22 hours interviewing Holmes, spoke with his friends and family, and reviewed the reports of other doctors. Reid said he also pored over jail logs and other written documents connected with the 27-year-old's life.

Brauchler has said he intends to show all 22 hours Reid's interviews with Holmes, but on Thursday, the jury only heard the first hour-and-a-half.

After inquiring about his family's reaction to visiting him in prison, Reid asked Holmes, "What brings tears to your eyes sometimes?"

"Uh, just regrets," Holmes said.

"Usually before I go to sleep."

"About the shooting."

Colorado Judicial Department

Reid did not meet Holmes in person until two years after the shooting massacre, and during their interviews, Holmes was taking medication that included an anti-psychotic drug and an anti-depressant.

"Lots of things had happened between the shootings and the time I saw him and the time the videos were made," Reid said.

Instead, Reid said he focused his attention on Holmes' behavior before the shooting and the first seven to 10 days in jail, using logs and soundless surveillance video.

"He was pretty much like other inmates might appear," Reid said. "There was nothing unusual psychiatrically going on."

To find Holmes guilty, prosecutors must show he was capable of distinguishing right from wrong, and that he had the capacity to form a "culpable mental state," or to know what he was doing.

Reid said he was most interested in determining what Holmes was capable of on July 19-20, 2012.

"Diagnosis is not the important thing in my view," he said. "It’s how is he functioning, what is he capable of."

In his interviews, Reid starts by asking Holmes what he thinks people should know about him.

"I'm kinda shy, I guess," Holmes said, adding, "I don't like to talk a lot."

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

Arlene and Robert Holmes, the parents of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes.


He described his family and a normal, suburban upbringing, first in Salinas, California, then in San Diego. He ran cross country and played soccer; his father was the coach. With his mother and little sister, he'd do craft projects and helped cook spaghetti. He made friends with other boys, and they'd play capture the flag, then as they got older, video games.

Holmes also did well academically in high school and at UC Riverside. Dorm life made it easier for him to make friends, and he spent the summer between sophomore and junior year as a counselor at a camp for underprivileged kids.

He lived at home for a year after getting his bachelor's degree, working for several months in a repetitive job at a vitamin factory. Finally, he got into the University of Colorado's prestigious neuroscience program, where he also met his first girlfriend.

Holmes told Reid he liked pop and techno music, specifically naming Tiesto. Prosecutors previously described how Holmes wore bluetooth headphones during the shooting rampage to listen to electronic music at full volume turned as he fired.

"It kind of helps me focus," Holmes told Reid. "I'd use it a lot when I was reading academic journals to wash out excess sounds."

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