Psychiatrist who examined James Holmes: Colorado theater shooter 'knew what he was doing'

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CENTENNIAL, Colorado — A state-appointed psychiatrist who examined James Holmes two years after his attack on a Colorado movie theater said Thursday that whatever he suffered from that night, he knew what he was doing.

Dr. William Reid told jurors he believes Holmes knew the consequences when he opened fire at a midnight Batman movie premiere, killing 12 people, wounded 58 and injured 12 others in the ensuing chaos.

Reminded that his task was to determine whether Holmes was legally sane that night, Reid said, "whatever he suffered from, it did not prevent him from forming intent and knowing the consequences of what he was doing."

The comment prompted the defense to ask to approach the judge, and lawyers from both sides were called to discuss Reid's testimony privately, prompting a break in the death penalty trial.

District Attorney George Brauchler had told jurors in his opening statements that Reid as well as another state-appointed psychiatrist who examined Holmes concluded he was legally sane during the attack.

But before Reid took the stand Thursday, Judge Carlos Samour reminded prosecutors of the strict parameters both sides had agreed to before trial, limiting what Reid can say about Holmes' sanity and keeping jurors from seeing parts of his videotaped 2014 examination.

The judge said Reid cannot say whether Holmes actually had a particular mental state at the time of the attack, and can only offer his expert opinion on whether Holmes was "capable of forming" a certain mental state.

Prosecutors are building a case that Holmes knew right from wrong when he carried out the shooting. They want him convicted and executed, not sent to a mental hospital.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Colorado law, the burden of proof is on Brauchler's team to convince jurors he was sane.

Reid's appearance follows a month of testimony from victims, first responders and investigators about what happened once the movie — and then the shooting — began on July 20, 2012.

In the coming days, prosecutors plan to ask Reid for his observations as they show jurors a redacted version of the 22 hours of videotaped interviews he conducted with Holmes.

Reid interviewed Holmes in 2014, after prosecutors challenged the conclusions of the first state-ordered review of his sanity, by Dr. Jeffrey Metzner in December 2013.

By then, Holmes had been anti-psychotic medicine for months, in part because 20 doctors who treated Holmes after his arrest agreed he suffers from a serious psychotic illness, defense attorney Dan King said early in the trial.

Earlier this week, prosecutors showed jurors what Holmes wrote in his notebook before the attack, such as an estimate on the police response ("3 mins") and diagrams of the theater complex, down to which auditorium had the fewest exits where victims might escape.

With detailed maps and cramped handwriting, Holmes sketched out a chilling list of choices: mass murder or serial murder; attack a theater or an airport; use guns, bombs or biological warfare.

The graduate student in neuroscience sought to diagnose himself, listing 13 ailments including schizophrenia and "borderline, narcissistic, anxious, avoidant and obsessive compulsive personality disorder."

"So, anyways, that's my mind," Holmes wrote. "It's broken. I tried to fix it."

The defense has said Holmes suffers from schizophrenia and was so warped by psychosis that he did not know right from wrong — Colorado's standard for an insanity verdict.

The notebook is a serious blow to the defense because it "speaks to his appreciation of wrongfulness," said Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist who has worked on sanity cases but isn't involved in the Holmes trial.

"This is a guy who is really struggling and is clearly mentally ill," Pitt said, but mental illness alone won't satisfy an insanity verdict in Colorado.

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