DA releases nearly 24 hours of 2014 interviews between psychiatrist and Aurora theater shooter

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    Screen shot of a 2014 video interview of Aurora theater shooting convict James Holmes/THE SENTINEL

AURORA | Local prosecutors on Tuesday released more than 23 hours of video interviews between convicted Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes and a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist, honoring a new request from a local attorney to unseal the tapes.

Extensive portions of the newly released interviews, which were conducted at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo in late July and early August 2014, were played during Holmes’ trial. Today marks the first time the lightly edited discussions between Holmes and the mental health professional have been made public outside of a courtroom.

“In terms of the information on the tapes, there’s nothing new,” said Steve Zansberg, a First Amendment attorney with Denver law firm Ballard Spahr who recently requested the interviews be released. “They were previously only available on a very small portion of the screen on the closed-circuit TV camera, so in that respect it’s a significant contribution to the public’s ability to see for themselves what James Holmes looked like with clarity, and hear his voice, and to pore over these tapes in a more detailed and careful way than they were presented at trial.”

The publication of the videos between Holmes and Dr. William Reid is the product of a District Court ruling from last summer stipulating numerous documents related to Holmes’ sanity evaluations, including doctor’s notes and reports, should be made public. The Denver Post had petitioned the court to obtain the records.

Former Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr., who presided over Holmes’ months-long trial, ruled in the paper’s favor in June. 

Samour has since been tabbed for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

In his ruling, Samour concluded Holmes lost his patient-client privilege — confidentiality protection afforded by federal law — when he hinged his case on his sanity. Holmes argued he was insane when he sneaked in the backdoor of an Aurora movie theater and began indiscriminately firing into the crowd.

Holmes was convicted of more than 100 counts in July 2015, just days before the three-year anniversary of the massacre that left 12 people dead and 70 more injured.

Zansberg asked the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to release the videos last week, he said in a phone interview. Zansberg, who has often represented media, including The Sentinel, said a video production company recently asked him to request the interview footage.

“The only thing, really, that prompted this was I had an interested party contact me and say, ‘is there any reason we can’t have the tapes?'” he said. “The District Attorney’s Office, I believe rightly, said, ‘this shouldn’t be exclusive, it’s now a matter of public record.’

“I commend the District Attorney’s Office for making them publicly available.”

Jeff Roberts, president of the Colorado Freedom Of Information Coalition, also praised the district attorney’s decision to release the recordings.

“I think it goes to the public being able to understand what happened,” he said. “There’s a lot we have learned about the Aurora theater shooter, but there are still unanswered questions and when something like that happens there is absolutely a public interest in knowing as much as possible. Getting access to these reports is part of filling in those missing puzzle pieces.”

Reid was one of several psychiatric experts who interviewed Holmes in an effort to determine whether the former University of Colorado graduate student was insane when, clad in body armor, he stormed into a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” detonated smoke bombs to sow confusion, and started shooting.

Reid ultimately determined Holmes was capable of understanding what he was doing when he committed the crimes, for which he received multiple life sentences in prison.

Prosecutors had asked for the death penalty in the case, but jurors did not heed their requests, with at least one holdout on the jury citing Holmes’ mental health as the cause for their hesitation.

A spokesperson for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said District Attorney George Brauchler does not plan on making a statement related to the release of the recordings.