Aurora theater shooting trial Day 37: Holmes’ defense begin their case

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1:15 p.m. update

CENTENNIAL | The first psychiatrist who evaluated James Holmes after the Aurora theater shooting testified Thursday that the accused gunman’s mental illness was “very severe” and he was psychotic.

“It was my impression that he was mentally ill, he was severely mentally ill, and that he had a psychotic illness,” Dr. Jonathan Woodcock testified Thursday.

Woodcock examined Holmes on July 24, 2012, just four days after the shootings and a day after Holmes’ first court appearance. He was the second defense witness called after they started their case Thursday morning and the first of what could be several doctors they call to testify.

During that examination at the Arapahoe County Jail, Woodcock said he was taken aback by how “flat” Holmes seemed and said he concluded that flatness was a result of Holmes suppressing his feelings in a psychotic fashion.

“It was very marked, really very severe,” he said.

About halfway through the exam, Woodcock said Holmes suddenly seemed annoyed. When he asked what was wrong, Holmes said he was “bored,” a response Woodcock said was shocking considering the circumstances.

“It was another manifestation of this tremendous, really psychotic, suppression of his feelings,” he said.

Prosecutors have yet to cross-examine Woodcock, but they have already tried to poke holes in his testimony. During more than an hour of questioning about Woodcock’s résumé, District Attorney George Brauchler noted that Woodcock was not a forensic psychiatrist like other experts who have testified.

During the often-contentious testimony Brauchler also pointed out that Woodcock had only been certified an expert one other time in a Colorado criminal trial, and always as an expert for the defense. The lone other time he was an expert was a case tried by Daniel King, one of Holmes’ lawyers.

King said the public defender called Woodcock that day simply because he was close by and they needed someone to make an initial observation of Holmes at that early phase.

Woodcock is scheduled to retake the stand when the trial resumes at 1:40 p.m. following the lunch break.

10:15 a.m. update:

CENTENNIAL | Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler pursued a particularly combative line of questioning against the first expert witness called by the defense in the Aurora theater shooting trial of James Holmes.

Dr. Jonathan Woodcock was the first doctor to testify at the defense’s request. Woodcock interviewed Holmes on July 24, 2012, just days after the shooting at the Century 16 movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded 70 others.

Woodcock determined after talking to Holmes that he believed he was insane, but Brauchler took exception to Woodcock’s credentials as an expert in the realm of the kind of mental illness other doctors who have interviewed Holmes say he suffered.

In particular, Brauchler pointed out that Woodcock’s primary area of expertise is in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“That has been a principle focus, yes,” Woodcock replied. “It’s not the only thing I do.”

Brauchler also questioned Woodcock as to his relative lack of experience in testifying as an expert witness on mental health maters, also noting that he has worked as a neurologist and psychiatrist but not as a forensic psychiatrist.

Prior to Woodcock’s testimony, the defense’s first witness was a jail nurse who was questioned about a video in which Holmes fell off a bed in a cell in November 2012 — about the same time Holmes was taken to Denver Health Medical Center for treatment.

The defense is expected to introduce more video evidence later in the day.

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CENTENNIAL | Defense lawyers in the Aurora theater shooting trial are scheduled to call their first witnesses this morning.

Prosecutors rested their case last week after calling more than 200 witnesses over the course of two months.

The defense’s case is expected to focus on Holmes’ sanity and they will likely call at least two doctors. Those doctors are expected to tell jurors that accused gunman James Holmes was insane at the time of the July 2012 shootings.

Previously, doctors called by the prosecution have said Holmes was mentally ill but sane at the time.

The defense has said they will need less than two weeks to present their case.

Holmes is accused of killing 12 and wounding 70 others during the rampage at the Century Aurora 16 Theater during a midnight premiere of a Batman movie. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.