James Holmes' attorney suggests he might have called psychiatrist

August 30, 2012|By Jenny Deam | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • A court hearing was held to examine James Holmes' relationship with University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, to whom he mailed a notebook that reportedly contains violent descriptions of an attack.
A court hearing was held to examine James Holmes' relationship with… (University of Colorado…)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- A defense attorney in the Aurora theater shooting floated a startling scenario in court Thursday, suggesting that the accused gunman may have tried to contact his psychiatrist minutes before a midnight shooting spree that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded.

Public defender Tamara Brady did not say James E. Holmes made such a call, but opened the door of possibility while questioning the University of Colorado psychiatrist who saw him as a patient on June 11.

After establishing that anyone dialing a phone number to a university hospital operator could potentially reach Dr. Lynne Fenton,  Brady asked: “Did James Holmes call that number nine minutes before the shooting started?’

 “I don’t know,” Fenton replied.

PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

The hearing sought to resolve one of the thorniest legal issues of doctor-patient privilege in the case against Holmes, 24, a former doctoral student who withdrew from the university's neuroscience program about six weeks before the early-morning July 20 shooting.

The prosecution has maintained that the doctor-patient relationship between Holmes and Fenton ended on June 11 -- the only time he met with her. Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Pearson said that because the relationship had ended, a package that Holmes sent to Fenton on July 19 -- believed to contain a notebook outlining his plans for the massacre -- would not be protected communication between a doctor and patient.

Brady, however, argued that even though Fenton did not see Holmes as a patient again and may have considered their therapeutic relationship over, it was not. She said that her client may have wanted to seek treatment at a later date -- even from prison -- and that he may have been trying to reach out to her for help weeks after he first got counseling.

“Perhaps the package was saying, ‘I’m feeling bad. Please stop me,’” she theorized.

It was another clue as to the strategy of the defense, which has acknowledged that Holmes was mentally ill.

Judge William Sylvester did not rule on the admissibility of the package or whether it fell under privileged communication, opting instead to continue the hearing until Sept. 20. He did, however, say midway through the 3 1/2-hour proceedings that he preliminarily agreed with the defense that the doctor-patient privilege did not end in June but rather continued until July 19,  when the package was sent.

Holmes faces 24 murder charges -- two for each person killed -- and a total of 142 criminal counts. 

[For the record, 7:55 p.m. Aug. 30: An earlier version of this post said Pearson had asked Fenton,  “Did James Holmes call that number nine minutes before the shooting started?" Actually, Brady posed the question.]


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