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Colorado theater shooter's sister says she still loves him, didn't know he was mentally ill

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CENTENNIAL, Colorado — When the younger sister of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes visited him in jail nearly two years after the attack, she no longer saw the loving brother who protected her when they were growing up.

"His whole demeanor seemed different," Chris Holmes said of the May 2014 visit. "His eyes, they were almost bugging out of his head."

Chris Holmes, 22, became the first in her family to testify at her older brother's death penalty trial Monday, saying in an effort to spare his life that she did not believe her brother was mentally ill growing up, but she also did not know how to recognize the signs.

Defense attorneys said they plan to call more witnesses Tuesday who can testify about Holmes' character as jurors consider whether he should serve life in prison without parole or be executed for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others during a crowded midnight movie in July 2012.

Expected to take the stand are Holmes' parents, Robert and Arlene Holmes, who have been sitting behind him in the courtroom every day of his 12 -week trial. Defense attorneys intend to show jurors video of the family in better times, including gathered around the dinner table at Christmas.

Holmes' lawyers say the once-promising neuroscience student should get a life term because he is severely mentally ill and has a family who still loves him.

On Monday, they showed jurors photos of Holmes and his sister smiling during vacations to Hawaii and the California mountains. In another photo, they're young children riding bikes. In still another, a 5-year-old Holmes holds his 2-year-old sister in a clumsy embrace. Chris Holmes grabbed her favorite photo in the minutes after she learned about the shooting, as investigators were searching her family's home. It shows them as kids, grinning while flossing their teeth.

"How do you feel when you look at it now?" Defense Attorney Rebekka Higgs asked her.

PHOTO: In this image taken from Colorado Judicial Department video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, top second from left in light-colored shirt, sits in court, as Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., far right, swears in witness Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, who gave testimony during the penalty phase of Holmes' trial, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Metzner, the court-appointed psychiatrist who concluded that James Holmes was legally sane when he attacked a Colorado movie theater, says Holmes' mental illness still is what caused him to kill 12 people and injure 70 others. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
In this image taken from Colorado Judicial Department video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, top second from left in light-colored shirt, sits in court, as Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., far right, swears in witness Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, who gave testimony during the penalty phase of Holmes' trial, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Metzner, the court-appointed psychiatrist who concluded that James Holmes was legally sane when he attacked a Colorado movie theater, says Holmes' mental illness still is what caused him to kill 12 people and injure 70 others. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)

"Sad," she said, fighting tears. "Just sad."

Holmes had no visible reaction to his sister's sometimes tearful testimony, even as she sat just feet from the defense table where he was tethered to the floor.

Growing up, she said, he was an introvert who kept his feelings to himself for fear of burdening others.

"He never wanted to be the center of attention," she said. Although she doesn't write to him in jail, she said she hoped to continue their relationship.

"I still love him," she said.

Earlier Monday, a court-appointed psychiatrist who found Holmes was legally sane during the attack testified that his severe mental illness led him to open fire on the theater.

Dr. Jeffrey Metzner's finding has not changed: He concluded that Holmes knew right from wrong, therefore meeting the legal definition of sanity under Colorado law. But Metzner also said the attack would not have happened if not for Holmes' mental illness.

"Having psychosis doesn't take away your capacity to make choices. It may increase your capacity to make bad choices," Metzner testified. "He acted on his delusions, and that's a reflection of the severity of his mental illness."

Jurors rejected Holmes' insanity plea and convicted him of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes. They decided unanimously last week that the attack was cruel enough to justify the death penalty, but they must now determine whether Holmes is so mentally ill he should not be executed.

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PHOTO: In this image taken from Colorado Judicial Department video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, top second from left in light-colored shirt, stands in court during the penalty phase of Holmes' trial, Monday, July 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, the court-appointed psychiatrist who concluded that James Holmes was legally sane when he attacked a Colorado movie theater, says Holmes' mental illness still is what caused him to kill 12 people and injure 70 others. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
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