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Trial Of Aurora Theater Shooting Suspect Could Be A Battle Of The Experts

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Jurors in the trial of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes will hear differing expert opinions about whether Holmes was legally insane at the time of the shooting.

In the trial of James Holmes, prosecutors spent the first month re-creating the night of the shooting. But this isn't a question of whether Holmes killed 12 people at the midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colo. The question has always been: Was he insane at the time?

For prosecutors, detailing that night is critical in exploring Holmes' mindset. During the process, jurors watched a lengthy, videotaped psychiatric examination. It was ordered by the court after Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The question of Holmes' sanity has consumed Judge Carlos Samour's court in recent days. He hired Dr. William Reid for a psychiatric evaluation. District Attorney George Brauchler called Reid to testify and didn't waste much time getting to the point.

"Is it your opinion that on the period of time applicable to these proceedings that the defendant James Eagan Holmes met the definition of legal sanity?" he asked.

Reid's response? A simple yes.

Of course, Holmes' legal team has its own experts who will eventually testify that he was insane at the time of the shooting. The jury will hear from them later this summer. But for now, Reid is the prosecution's star witness. He testified that Holmes clearly suffered from some mental illness, but not enough to prevent him from knowing right from wrong.

"Whatever he suffered from, it did not prevent him from forming the intent and knowing what he was doing and the consequences of what he was doing," he told the courtroom.

Reid testified that before he interviewed Holmes, he received a copy of the case file. He also talked to Holmes' parents and interviewed other psychiatrists who treated him.

Eventually he sat down with Holmes for a one-on-one, videotaped evaluation that lasted more than 20 hours. All of it was shown to the jury.

Early on, Holmes' responses are odd and absurd. He even explains why killing others increased his own self-worth.

"Just that anything that they would have done, or like pursued, gets canceled out and given to me," he says in the video.

Holmes assigned one point for each person. So by killing 12 people he added 12 points to his self-worth. The injured don't count. And he said he regrets that people were wounded. In the video, Reid asks Holmes to explain the logic behind that belief.

"It's not based on logic; it just is the way it is," he replies.

But, in what may be damning evidence, Holmes eventually admits on tape he knew what he was doing was legally wrong, that he withheld the plan of the attack from others because he didn't want to be stopped. He also believed that the FBI was surveying him. The court's psychiatrist, William Reid, explained to the jury why, in his medical opinion, that proves sanity.

"It suggests that he knew that he was doing something wrong or planning something wrong," he says.

In fact, Reid says Holmes picked a midnight movie premiere to maximize casualties, but also because there would be fewer children in the theater so late.

"He says he didn't want to kill children, and says he was sorry that a child was killed when he discovered that one was."

That victim was 6-year-old Veronica Moser.

Holmes' defense team has largely avoided cross-examining witnesses, especially victims from the theater. But Craig Silverman, a former deputy district attorney who's following the case, says they must attack Reid's credibility.

"They have to do a good job because Dr. Reid is a powerful witness for the prosecution," he says. "And if they leave him still standing when he leaves, it could be over for their client."

Because if the jury rejects that Holmes was insane at the time of the attack, he could be sentenced to death.

Copyright 2015 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit

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