James Holmes was barred from Colorado campus for making threats, prosecutors say

Tim Skillern

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The prosecution in the James Holmes mass murder case said on Thursday that the suspect's school life is linked to the July 20 shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58 others during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at a movie theater in Aurora. Karen Pearson, a lawyer with the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office, said that Holmes was also barred from the Anschutz Medical Campus after he made threats in June.

"What's going on in the defendant's [education] life is extremely relevant in this case," Pearson said. She said Holmes' threats to campus, grades, emails and withdrawal from the University of Colorado Denver in 2011 are tied to his purchasing ammunition, body armor and explosives.

Particularly notable, she said, was Holmes' failed oral examination on June 7, just weeks before the theater attack.

"All of that is relevant," Pearson said, "and goes to his decision to withdrawal from school and booby trap his apartment with explosives and commit this act."

Defense attorney Daniel King, at times angry and animated, accused the prosecution of illegally obtaining documents and said it was inappropriately "fishing" for any information on the suspected shooter.

During the hour-long hearing, King told Judge William Sylvester he believed prosecutors unlawfully seized documents that relate to Holmes' education. Those records include Holmes' admission application, course work, class grades, oral exam results, school emails, and his petition for withdrawal from the school. Holmes was pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

[Complete coverage: Colorado theater shooting]

"We now have a pattern of conduct going on in which the prosecution is illegally obtaining documents," King said during the procedural hearing at Arapahoe County District Court. Saying the legal process was "deteriorating," King told Judge Sylvester he suspects the DA's office already knows much of the information they're formally asking for in court.

"Judge, they've already got what they're saying they're seeking," King said.

The school motive, King said, is behind the prosecution's "fishing expedition," a phrase he repeatedly used to describe tactics across the courtroom. But "motive is irrelevant," King said.

Pearson denied any illegality and said she had a signed order to obtain the records.

"The defense is implying we have obtained those in some illegal manner, and we have not," Pearson said. She said Holmes' grades, relationships with professor and communication with the school could be tied to "the planning of the acts." The DA's office has also requested campus police records on Holmes, and a behavioral threat and health assessment of Holmes that she said is relevant to the shootings.

But according to the Associated Press, the University of Colorado said in writing that there were no documents related to Holmes' campus ban. That conflicts with the prosecution's arguments on Thursday.

Holmes, who faces 142 counts stemming from the rampage, sat still and said nothing during the hearing. His orange-red hair is browning at the roots, and he still dons a red jail jumpsuit. He will appear in court on Aug. 30 for another hearing. His university psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, is expected to testify then.

Attorneys on Thursday also argued over whether Fenton and other psychiatric professionals are considered, for legal purposes, medical doctors, and thus whether Holmes' relationship and communication with Fenton is privileged information. Prosecutors also said Holmes sent a notebook to Fenton that contains violent descriptions. Prosecutors want access; the defense team argues the notebook is covered under doctor-patient privilege.

King further told Sylvester that no communication from a psychiatric professional could be uttered without a patient waiving privilege, and that records are protected under state and federal laws.

Sylvester asked defense lawyers to provide him with written arguments on that matter by noon on Friday.