US & Canada

Aurora cinema massacre: James Holmes 'mentally ill'

Handout booking photo released by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office shows alleged Aurora movie theatre shooter James Holmes 23 July 2012
Image caption James Holmes had academic problems, according to his university

The man accused of last month's Colorado cinema massacre is mentally ill, defence lawyers have said.

The statement came during a court hearing on a motion by US media to weaken a gag order on the case against James Holmes.

His lawyers argued that they need more time and information from prosecutors to fully assess Mr Holmes' condition.

The 24-year-old former PhD student was present at the hearing and looked dazed, as in previous appearances.

"We cannot begin to assess the nature and the depth of Mr Holmes' mental illness until we receive full disclosure," defence lawyer Daniel King said.

He added that the prosecution has police reports, but not any photographs, recordings or expert testimony.

Prosecutors argued that police were still interviewing witnesses and finishing their reports.

"There is a large queue of information to be typed up," prosecutor Rich Orman said.

Twelve people died and 58 were wounded in the 20 July attack at a midnight screening of the new Batman film near Denver.

'Watchdog role'

More than 20 news groups have asked Judge William Sylvester to unseal documents related to the case.

Both prosecutors and defence lawyers are resisting the release.

Under the gag order, the University of Colorado Denver, where the accused was in the process of dropping out of a neuroscience PhD at the time of the shooting, is not allowed to release information about him.

The case file itself is also sealed.

Prosecutors have said it could jeopardise their investigation if information is made public, while Mr Holmes' lawyers have said it could risk his right to a fair trial.

Officials in Aurora have cited the order as a reason for declining to speak about the city's response to the shootings.

But members of the media say that court documents, which include search warrants, lists of evidence and police interviews with witnesses, can be important sources of public information.

"It is performing our watchdog role to look at the process and try to assess for the public how the police have handled the case and assembled the evidence and assure for the defendant and the public that things are being conducted open and fairly," Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post, told the Associated Press.

"It goes way beyond what's necessary to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial."

Judge Sylvester said during the hearing that he would consider the media request and issue a written ruling later, but gave no timeline for a decision.


Few details are currently known about how the accused allegedly planned the shooting, or the explosives that, according to the authorities, he set to booby-trap his apartment.

On Thursday, Mr Holmes was formally evicted from his apartment, the Denver Post reported, as his landlord said that booby-trapping the apartment, as well as murder, violated his lease.

Despite the gag order, some details about the accused have emerged in the US media.

It was reported this week that the suspect's university psychiatrist, Dr Lynne Fenton, told campus police weeks before the attack that she was concerned about his behaviour.

It has also been reported that the accused posted a package to the psychiatrist, containing a notebook with descriptions of an attack. The parcel was found in the university's mail room three days after the massacre.