Colorado cinema shooter James Holmes tormented by ‘obsession to kill’, court hears

Writings laid out plans for attack to fulfil urge that started in childhood

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Notebook scribblings by James Holmes, the former neuroscience student accused of killing 12 people in the 2012 Colorado cinema shooting, suggest he had been haunted by an impulse to kill for 10 years. Over two of its pages, he wrote simply, “Why? Why?” over and over again.

Submitted by the prosecution in the second week of the trial of Mr Holmes, the notebook also offered a first chilling glimpse into his state of mind just before the attack. Written in his own hand, the pages showed him pondering the best options for a “mass murder spree” and choosing a cinema over an airport because security at the latter would be too tight.

In his notes he also sketched the cinema in Aurora, the Denver suburb where he carried out the attack, and noted that the nearest police station was only three minutes away and that he therefore had a 99 per cent chance of being caught.

Most chillingly, the notebook also featured entries showing him contemplating how to achieve a “mass murder spree” and considerations of the best cinemas and times for maximum impact.

In one section of the notebook, the defendant states: “And finally, the last escape, mass murder at the movies.” And also: “1st obsession onset > 10 years ago. So anyways, that is my mind. It is broke. I tried to fix it.” 

Sergeant Matthew Fyles, a Denver detective and prosecution witness read aloud excerpts from the 29-page notebook. In one, Mr Holmes wrote: “The obsession to kill since I was a kid, with age became more realistic.”

James Holmes’ appearance at his first court appearance

Jurors also for the first time heard Mr Holmes speak about the mass shooting, carried out at a packed midnight premiere screening in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, of the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. In a video-taped interview with a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr William Reid, that was played to the jury, he was seen speaking of crying at night because of what he had done.

In a possibly pivotal moment, Dr Reid testified on Thursday that although Mr Holmes was suffering mental maelstroms, they did not stop him “from forming the intent and knowing what he was doing, and the consequences of what he was doing”.

His testimony caused a brief interruption of the trial after the defence said he had gone too far in offering his opinion on what state of mind their client was in the night he carried out the attack and asked for a mistrial. But Judge Carlos Samour turned the request down. The defence is asking jurors to find their client not guilty by reason of insanity.

Under further questioning by District Attorney George Brauchler, the lead prosecutor, Dr Reid limited himself to the shorter answers. Did Mr Holmes have a serious mental illness, he was asked? “Yes.” Despite that illness, did he have “the capacity to know right from wrong” on July 19 and 20, 2012, the night of the attack? “Yes.” The attack also left 70 injured.

Dr Reid said he had spent some 300 hours preparing to interview the defendant in July last year, including reading the notebook and watching footage of his behaviour in prison. But he acknowledged that much may have changed in Mr Holmes since the attacks, not least because of the medications he had been taking.

For jurors watching the recorded interview, the key moment may have come when Dr Reid was heard asking Mr Holmes what if anything ever brought tears to his eyes. “Just regrets,” the defendant responded. “Usually it’s before I go to sleep.”

“Regrets about?” Dr Reid asked. “About the shooting,” Mr Holmes replied.

Under Colorado law the burden rests on the prosecution to prove that the defendant was not insane when he committed the alleged crimes. As part of it case, it has asserted that Mr Holmes assembled an arsenal of weapons, ammunition and explosives, bought with a credit card, before carrying out the mass shooting.

Prosecutors have highlighted a profile he posted online just days before the shooting on the website, “Will you visit me in prison?” he wrote.

They have also underscored a question that Mr Holmes asked two Denver detectives shortly after he was arrested at the cinema. “There weren’t any children hurt, were there?”  In fact, there were, including six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, whom he had just killed.

One of the worst mass shootings seen in America in the last few years, the Aurora attack took place just miles from Columbine High School, scene of the 1999 massacre that left 12 students and one teacher dead. Mr Holmes faces 166 separate criminal charges and if found guilty faces a possible death sentence.