Attorneys for mass murder suspect James Holmes told a district judge Thursday that their client is mentally ill, setting the stage for an insanity defense for the man charged with murdering 12 people and injuring 58 in a movie theater rampage.
Public defender Dan King, Holmes' court-appointed attorney, said Holmes, 24, had sought treatment for mental illness before the July 20 shootings. King repeatedly referred to Holmes' mental health at a hearing during which news media outlets sought to unseal court documents that could reveal details about the case.
King made several references to Holmes' mental state when he asked Arapahoe County Chief District Judge William Sylvester for more of the information prosecutors and investigators have amassed against Holmes, who faces 142 felony charges, including a dozen counts of first-degree murder.
King says the defense needs the information to assess Holmes, a doctoral candidate in the University of Colorado's neuroscience program who dropped out three days after an end-of-year oral examination.
"We cannot begin to assess the nature and the depth of Mr. Holmes' mental illness until we receive full disclosure," King said.
During Thursday's hearing, Holmes sat quietly as King and prosecutors also argued over whether a package sent by Holmes to university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, who had been treating him, is protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. A hearing on the matter was set for Aug. 16. Both the prosecution and the defense want to keep the documents sealed.
Holmes' mental state at the time of the July 20 shootings is considered crucial to his defense. If Holmes is considered competent to stand trial, he could face a death sentence if convicted, although District Attorney Carol Chambers has not said whether she is seeking the death penalty.
In Colorado, establishing a defendant's mental state can be a two-step process. The first involves determining the person's competency to stand trial -- whether he understands the charges and can assist his lawyers in his defense. If he is found competent, he could plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Iris Eytan, a former Colorado public defender now in private practice specializing in cases involving mentally ill defendants, says it's all but certain Holmes' attorneys will use an insanity defense.
"It's pretty clear this is not a whodunit, but why -it-happened," says Eytan, who used to work with King. "The only reasonable explanation is that he has a serious mental illness or the onset of schizophrenia that caused this to happen."
Strauss reported from McLean, Va.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
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