CENTENNIAL, Colo.—The younger sister of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes became the first in her family to testify at his trial, saying Monday in an effort to spare his life that her brother’s eyes and demeanor were different when she visited him in jail nearly two years after the attack.
During a visit in May 2014, he responded to questions with one-word answers, Chris Holmes, 22, testified during the sentencing phase of her brother’s trial. And his eyes “were almost bulging out of his head in a way,” she said.
Jurors are considering whether James Holmes should serve life in prison without parole or be executed for killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in a crowded movie theater in July 2012. Defense attorneys say he should get a life term because he was suffering a severe psychotic break at the time.
Chris Holmes described a normal childhood packed with family vacations, but she said her brother had a hard time finding friends and adjusting when they moved from the California city of Salinas to San Diego.
She also said she did not know her brother was mentally ill growing up but also didn’t know how to recognize the signs.
Earlier in the day, the defense called to the stand a court-appointed psychiatrist who previously testified for prosecutors that James Holmes was legally sane during the attack but his mental illness led him to open fire.
Dr. Jeffrey Metzner’s finding has not changed: He concluded that Holmes knew right from wrong, therefore meeting the legal definition of sanity under Colorado law. But Metzner also said the attack would not have happened if not for Holmes’ mental illness.
“Having psychosis doesn’t take away your capacity to make choices. It may increase your capacity to make bad choices,” Metzner testified. “He acted on his delusions, and that’s a reflection of the severity of his mental illness.”
Metzner, who diagnosed Holmes with schizoaffective disorder, said he did not think Holmes went on his rampage to get notoriety or because of his longstanding hatred of mankind, which he described in a spiral notebook. Instead, Metzner said, Holmes’ actions were “directly related” to delusions that killing people would increase his self-worth.
“I can come up with no other explanation for what he did,” Metzner said.
Holmes knew what he was doing was illegal and that others would think it was wrong, Metzner reiterated in response to questions from District Attorney George Brauchler. The prosecutor brought up Holmes’ statement that he did not want to date someone because he did not want anyone to be featured in news coverage as the girlfriend of a mass killer.
Jurors have rejected Holmes’ insanity plea and convicted him of 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes. They decided unanimously last week that the attack was cruel enough to justify the death penalty, but they must now determine whether Holmes’ is so mentally ill he cannot be executed.
Also Monday, Holmes’ lawyers asked the judge to question a dozen jurors who said they heard about the deadly theater shooting last week in Lafayette, Louisiana. The defense feared some jurors might decide Holmes should be sentenced to death for possibly inspiring a copycat shooting.
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. determined they had learned little about the shooting Thursday that killed two and wounded nine others and could still be impartial.
The 12 jurors said they saw or heard about it through news reports or from friends or family but they quickly turned away or ended those conversations.
One woman acknowledged that she “wasn’t thinking” when she skimmed an article about the Lafayette shooting. She mentioned it to her husband, who said he didn’t bring it up because he didn’t think she should know about it.
Another juror said she got a text from a friend about “another theater shooting.” One said she turned off her radio after hearing a mention of the shooting on National Public Radio.