DENVER: A former University of Colorado graduate student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others in a shooting rampage at a Denver-area movie theatre last week had been under the care of a psychiatrist who was part of a campus threat-assessment team.
The disclosure came in court documents filed yesterday by lawyers for James Holmes, 24, who is accused of opening fire last Friday on a packed showing of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, in the Denver suburb of Aurora. The defence attorneys, in their request to an Arapahoe County district judge, are seeking a court order requiring prosecutors to turn over the contents of a package that Holmes sent to Dr Lynne Fenton and was later seized by investigators.
"Mr Holmes was a psychiatric patient of Dr Fenton, and his communications with her are protected," the filing said. Fenton, medical director for student mental health service sat the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, provides medication and psychotherapy for grad students in addition to her teaching duties, according to a school website. A professional biography of Fenton posted on the site said she had conducted research on schizophrenia, including a two-year grant to work in the schizophrenia research department of the US Department of Veterans Affairs from 2008 to 2010. Fenton also is a member of the campus-based ‘behavioral assessment and threat assessment team,’ which helps faculty and staff deal with ‘individuals who may be threatening, disruptive or otherwise problematic’, according to that group's website. Under Colorado law, mental health professionals cannot be held liable in civil suits for failing to predict a patient's violent behaviour unless it involves a ‘serious threat of imminent physical violence against a specific person or persons’.
When such a threat is made, the mental health professional is required to take action, which may include notifying those targeted or a law enforcement agency.
Fenton could not immediately be reached by Reuters for comment, and a spokeswoman for the University of Colorado medical school declined to comment, citing restrictions under a gag order issued by the judge.
The university, where Holmes had been enrolled as a doctoral student of neuroscience, confirmed earlier this week that auspicious package was delivered by mail on Monday and that it was ‘immediately investigated and handed over to authorities within hours’.
Fox News has reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement source close to the investigation, that two packages were sent by Holmes to a psychiatrist on the faculty of the University of Colorado, and that one contained a notebook detailing the shooting scenario. According to Fox News, the notebook contained hand-drawn illustrations of stick figures shooting at other stick figures.