Expert witness declares theater shooter was insane at time of crime

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- She rambled at times, especially when the Arapahoe County District Attorney began their cross examination late in the day. But Dr. Raquel Gur was succinct when asked her opinion on the cause of the July 20, 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which left 12 dead and 70 others injured.

“Save for the existence of a psychotic illness, it would not have happened,” the expert witness said on Tuesday, day 44 of the death penalty trial.

Declared by the court an expert witness on the topic of schizophrenia when she began testifying on Monday, Gur went on to declare on Tuesday that admitted gunman James Holmes is not only schizophrenic, but was insane at the time of the shooting.

“The severe defect in his brain made him not capable of distinguishing right from wrong,” she said.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He would be committed to the state mental health institute in Pueblo and eligible for release at the discretion of the court should the jury find he was incapable of discerning right from wrong at the time of the shooting.

If the jury finds him guilty, on the other hand, the trial would proceed to a sentencing hearing, in which the jury would decide whether to sentence Holmes to life in prison or death.

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Closing arguments in the trial have been scheduled for July 13. But they could begin earlier, as lead defense attorney Daniel King said Monday his team’s case is going “demonstrative faster than expected.”

On Tuesday, however, the pace of his case slowed to a crawl, as King spent most of the day detailing the 28 hours Gur said she spent with Holmes, going back all the way to his childhood.

“There was nothing in his behavior to cause (his parents) alarm,” Gur testified. “But as he grew older, he felt more anxious and less comfortable around others.”

Along with meetings with other psychiatrists who examined Holmes – including Dr. William Reid, a forensic psychiatrist who declared Holmes mentally ill but sane – Gur said she also conducted an MRI of Holmes’ brain as well as an interview with his parents before issuing her final diagnosis.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler took aim at the timing of Gur’s interview with Holmes’ parents in his cross examination.

In particular, Gur admitted she formed her first opinion on Holmes – that he has schizophrenia and was insane at the time of the shooting – after only 13 of her 28 hours with him, and before she spoke to his parents.

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Brauchler also criticized Gur’s MRI of Holmes, which she said showed areas of his brain that control emotion and decision-making were two or more standard deviations smaller than average. Using an analogy, Brauchler suggested Gur typically uses the “Blu Ray of MRI machines,” but instead used the “VHS of MRI machines” to examine Holmes.

Gur objected to Brauchler’s characterization of the MRI, saying where Holmes was being held dictated which machines she could use. It wasn’t the first time she objected to Brauchler’s line of questioning, either.

When Brauchler suggested that, in her own words, Gur indicated in a past academic paper that expert witnesses often have an implicit bias towards the attorneys who call (and often pay) them to testify.

While she did not deny writing the sentence, she claimed Brauchler had taken it out of context.

“I don’t mean to argue, but it’s not that simple,” Gur said. “To be fair to the scientific process and fair to this court, you must consider the statement in context.”

The greater context of the paper, Gur went on to state, outlined that there is not sufficient evidence to prove if expert witnesses are biased toward the attorneys who call for their testimony. And as such, it is nothing more than a theory.

Though he permitted that response, District Court Judge Carlos Samour Jr. eventually insisted that when met with a yes or no question from Brauchler, Gur must not seek to elaborate further.

Brauchler’s cross examination of Gur was scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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