Expert: Theater shooter still thinks killing increases worth

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado theater shooter still believes killing people increases his self-worth, three years after he opened fire at a crowded midnight movie premiere, a nationally known schizophrenia expert testified Tuesday.

Holmes continues to suffer from the bizarre delusions that preoccupied him before he killed 12 people and wounded 70, including that murder would raise his "human capital," said Dr. Raquel Gur, head of neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.

Gur also has evaluated Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 more near Tucson, Arizona, in 2011.

Gur said Holmes showed signs of schizophrenia, and she is expected to say she found he was legally insane during the July 20, 2012, attack.

Her testimony is crucial as defense attorneys argue that during the shooting, Holmes was in the grips of a psychotic episode that rendered him unable to tell right from wrong — the threshold for an insanity verdict in Colorado. Prosecutors say he was sane and are seeking the death penalty.

Gur interviewed Holmes for 28 hours over two years and studied the spiral notebook where he scrawled elaborate plans for the massacre. She said he is philosophical and highly intelligent, similar to Kaczynski.

"The higher functioning people, namely those who have greater intellectual capacity, are the ones who come up with the most bizarre delusions," she said.

But an MRI done earlier this year showed parts of Holmes' brain that affect emotional response were smaller in volume than those of a healthy brain, possibly affecting his ability to make rational decisions, Gur said. Throughout her conversations with Holmes, he seemed flat and emotionless, a possible indicator of schizophrenia.

"His face was restricted no matter what he spoke about," she said. It was worse during their first interaction in December 2012, after Holmes returned to jail from a hospital where he was taken after running head-first into walls and falling backward off his bunk.

Of the doctors who examined Holmes for the defense, Gur spent the most time with him and interviewed his parents.

But her testimony will be highly contentious. Prosecutors spent nearly two days tearing apart the testimony of another psychiatrist who said he found Holmes was insane.

Gur's findings also differ from those of two court-appointed doctors who studied Holmes in the months and years after the shooting and found him legally sane at the time of the attack.

At times on Tuesday, Gur's testimony sounded like a college lecture. She often spoke over Defense Attorney Daniel King, who tried to keep her from veering off topic.