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Colorado university denies it barred James Holmes because of threat

April 05, 2013|By Jenny Deam

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The University of Colorado-Denver stood firm Friday in saying that it never barred James E. Holmes from campus, despite newly released court documents that indicate the suspect in the Aurora movie theater massacre had his ID card deactivated after he alarmed a school psychiatrist.

Dr. Lynne Fenton told campus police officer Lynn Whitten on June 12 -- more than a month before the July 20 rampage that killed 12 and injured 70 -- that Holmes had “homicidal thoughts” and may be a danger to the public.

Fenton, director of student mental health services at the university’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, testified in a pretrial hearing she saw Holmes only once, on June 11, and their undisclosed conversation caused her to contact campus police.

A trove of search warrants and the arrest affidavit  unsealed on Thursday by Judge Carlos Samour Jr. now offer some clues about Fenton’s encounter with Holmes and what unfolded immediately afterward:

Whitten was interviewed by Aurora police the day after the massacre, the court documents say, and she told officers she had deactivated Holmes’ ID on June 12 because of Fenton’s concerns. The move barred Holmes from some campus buildings, classrooms and laboratories.

Whitten also told police that Fenton told her that Holmes had “threatened and harassed” the psychiatrist after she stopped seeing him, the documents said.

But the documents do not indicate what follow-up -- if any -- occurred between June 12 and July 20. One of the newly released search warrants only says Fenton contacted Whitten “per her requirement” about “his danger to the public due to homicidal statements he had made.”

Whitten and Fenton have not commented directly because they remain under a gag order.

For months the university has denied Holmes was barred from campus because of any threat. The deactivation of his ID badge was a routine procedure when a student withdraws from school, the university has said.

Holmes, a former doctoral student at the school’s elite neuroscience program, failed a key exam on June 7 and began to withdraw from school on June 10.

Again on Friday the university reiterated in a written statement that Holmes was not barred from campus because of any threat, and that the unsealed documents proved it: “These documents support the prior statement from CU that Mr. Holmes was never banned from campus but instead that his student access card was deactivated when he left the program.”

Jacque Montgomery, executive director of media and communications for the university, declined to elaborate further or address why the university does not see a contradiction between its statement and the information in the court documents.

Montgomery said it would be inappropriate to comment further because some people involved may be called as witnesses in a  trial.

Still, the revelation that warnings may have been unheeded is another blow to those who lost family members in the theater.

“It is infuriating,” says Scott Larimer, of Crystal Lake, Ill., whose son John Larimer was killed in the rampage. “In my opinion they should’ve done more. They should be ashamed that they didn’t.”

Larimer questions why Holmes was not hospitalized for a 72-hour mental health assessment if his psychiatrist was concerned that he might be a danger to others. Larimer also wonders if the campus officer reported Fenton’s concerns to other officers. “I don’t know if it would’ve mattered, but at least they would’ve done something. We’ll never know,” he said.

Holmes faces 166 charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. On Monday, Dist. Atty. George Brauchler, of Colorado’s 18th Judicial District, announced he was seeking the death penalty in the case, rejecting -- at least for now -- a defense offer for Holmes to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. A trial is scheduled for early February.

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