University of Colorado fights turning over records in theater massacre case

By Keith Coffman
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The University of Colorado is fighting attempts by lawyers defending accused cinema gunman James Holmes to turn over records that public defenders say the school was trying to hide about its former student, court documents show.

Lawyers for the 26-year-old California native sought earlier this week to have emails and other records released to them from an unnamed prosecution witness with connections to the school.

The university objected on Wednesday, while prosecutors and the unidentified witness likewise filed motions seeking to have the subpoenas quashed, calling the issue "a fishing expedition."

Holmes was a doctoral candidate in the neuroscience program at the university's Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.

He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for opening fire in July 2012 inside an Aurora theater during a midnight screening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

The rampage killed 12 moviegoers and injured dozens more, and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for Holmes if he is convicted.

Holmes' lawyers have acknowledged he was the lone gunman, but that he was undergoing a psychotic episode at the time.

The defense motion filed this week, and all the responses to it, are heavily redacted, making it hard to identify the witness or establish their relationship to the university or to Holmes.

Holmes' lawyers said they had come to the conclusion that the witness believes the records contain information that "university officials have an interest in hiding."

They have asked Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour to review the records in private to decide if they should be turned over.

The information in question includes cellphone records and emails the witness sent to a friend discussing his interactions with law enforcement officials after the shootings.

"One issue I have is that some of my evidence will help the defense," the defense motion said, quoting one of the emails.

Prosecutors counter that Holmes' lawyers have already interviewed the witness and could have asked him about any "alleged inconsistencies."

The trial is set to begin with jury selection in December.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)