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Movie massacre: Defense challenges police on suspect's notebook

December 10, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • In this file photo, James Holmes makes his first court appearance at the Arapahoe County in Centennial, Colorado.
In this file photo, James Holmes makes his first court appearance at the… (RJ Sangosti, Pool / Getty…)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The handling of a key piece of evidence in the Aurora movie massacre fell under scrutiny on Monday as defense attorneys raised the question of whether law enforcement officers were careless when they confiscated a notebook that might have detailed suspect James E. Holmes’ plans in advance.

An intriguing, even eerie, fact emerged about the notebook tied to the man who is accused of opening fire on a crowded theater showing a Batman movie: The notebook  has been stuffed with money that had been burned. Burned money appeared in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight."

The spiral notebook was sent by Holmes to Dr. Lynne Fenton, a University of Colorado-Denver psychiatrist, on July 19, hours before he is alleged to have unleashed an attack on a packed screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” The July 20 rampage killed 12 and wounded at least 58.

Fenton counseled Holmes once on June 11, four days after he failed a key exam as a doctoral neuroscience student and one day after he began to withdraw from the university.

Public defenders in the case also sought Monday to determine who leaked details about the contents of the notebook to the press in violation of a strict gag order.

Detective Alton Reed of the Aurora Police Department testified that he “fanned” through the notebook addressed to Fenton from Holmes on July 23 in the mailroom of the Anschutz Medical Campus. However, he did not disclose the contents in court beyond saying he saw writing and money that had been burned. He also insisted he did not tell the news media about the notebook.

It is unclear what significance, if any, the burned money has to the case but there is some speculation it is tied to a scene in a previous Batman movie in which the homicidal Joker burns piles of money. Holmes has reportedly said he thought of himself as the Joker. Before the shooting Holmes had dyed his brown hair a neon orange, perhaps to evoke the Joker, though the character's hair is green.

On July 23, the Aurora police, FBI agents and the Adams County bomb squad were called to the university mailroom after employees and campus police searched for anything addressed to Fenton or Dr. Robert Feinstein, chairman of the university’s outpatient psychiatric clinic. Holmes’ public defenders had alerted Fenton the day before that a package would be arriving for her and that they wanted it back.

Although Reed said he wore protective gloves to preserve the evidence as he briefly examined the notebook, campus police Chief Douglas Abraham admitted he did not when he briefly shook the notebook to see if anything else was inside.  “I was careless,” he testified.

The defense team has been strongly critical not just of press leaks but also of the prosecution for making what the defense calls false statements about Holmes’ time at the university. Previously prosecutors have said Holmes was banned from campus after making unspecified threats to a professor. University officials immediately denied that, saying Holmes’ campus pass was deactivated as part of his withdrawal process.

Holmes was admitted to the elite neuroscience doctoral program in June 2011 but withdrew a year later. He is being held without bond.

Holmes was back in court Monday. He seemed alert as he glanced around the courtroom.

Last month a pretrial hearing was abruptly postponed after his lawyers said he had been taken to the hospital for an undisclosed reason. Local media outlets reported he had tried to bash his head against a wall in his cell.

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