Prosecutors argue that Holmes was flunking out of school


CENTENNIAL| James Holmes’ academic struggles — including failing a major test and getting banned from campus in June — may have been the motive behind the 23-year-old’s shooting rampage, prosecutors said Thursday.

Deputy district Attorney Karen Pearson said Holmes academic career at the University of Colorado was not going as he planned before the shooting.

In early June, he failed an oral exam in the neuroscience graduate program, and later that month made threats against the school that led campus police to ban him from the Anschutz medical Campus. Holmes’ behavior also landed him on the radar of the school’s threat assessment team, she said.

Holmes later withdrew from classes.

“At the same time, he is buying an enormous amount of ammunition,” Pearson said.

 It wasn’t clear from comments in court Thursday what threats Holmes made or what exactly led to him being banned from campus. Court documents detailing those incidents have been sealed, per a judge’s order.

Pearson discussed Holmes’ academic struggles as the prosecution argued for the court to let them see virtually all of his records from CU.

Those records are vital, Pearson said, because they may show what led Holmes to booby trap his apartment and open fire on July 20, killing 12 and wounding 58, at the Century Aurora 16 theater.

“What’s going on in his life is extremely relevant to this case,” Pearson said.

Holmes’ defense, though, argued that prosecutors were going on a “fishing expedition,” seeking a mountain of records that likely aren’t relevant.

Daniel King, Holmes’ public defender, said prosecutors had filed a subpoena for records that amounted to little more than an attempt to “see what they can find.”

Many of the materials prosecutors have requested — including Holmes school application and grades — are private and should remain so, he said.

“Mr. Holmes’ grades, Mr. Holmes’ transcripts, Mr. Holmes’ application to University of Colorado — nowhere does the prosecution set forth how that could have any relevance to the alleged crimes in this case,” King said.

But Pearson said prosecutors need to see those documents so they can begin to understand what led to the theater attack.

During Thursday’s hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center, which lasted about an hour, Holmes again showed no emotion. Wearing a red jail jumpsuit with what appeared to be a bullet proof vest underneath, he seemed to yawn at one point and generally his eyes wandered.

The prosecutors’ account presented a sharply different picture of Holmes’ departure from CU from that provided by university officials in the days after the shooting.

Pearson did not elaborate on the nature of the alleged threats during the hearing, nor did she disclose the source of the information. But she said that professors had urged Holmes to get into another profession and that his research had been deteriorating.

Before a gag order was issued, the university had said campus police had no records on Holmes.

University officials also said Holmes lost access to university buildings after his June 10 withdrawal because his student access card was shut off, not because of threats or any other safety reason.

The university also said in writing there were no documents related to the decision to bar Holmes from the campus.

Prosecutors say they need the university documents to gain access to a notebook reportedly containing violent descriptions of an attack. The notebook reportedly was in a package Holmes sent to university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton.

King has said the notebook is protected by a doctor-patient relationship. King claims that Holmes is mentally ill and had sought out Fenton for help with that illness.

Fenton is expected to testify at the Aug. 30 hearing.

Pearson said prosecutors want to establish whether Fenton was Holmes’ psychiatrist at the time he sent the package to her, and if she was, whether the notebook was meant for therapy. If it wasn’t meant for therapy and Fenton wasn’t Holmes psychiatrist, prosecutors can have access to the notebook, which wouldn’t be protected under the doctor-patient privilege.

Former Denver Deputy District Attorney Karen Steinhauser said arguments over the records show both sides are gearing up for a trial over Holmes’ sanity.

“They know it’s not a question of who did this,” Steinhauser said. “They know that the only possible defense is that he was not sane at the time.”

School records don’t have the same legal protection as communication between a doctor and patient. Steinhauser said the records might help prosecutors establish that Holmes implicitly waived his right to privacy if he talked about some of the same things he spoke to his doctor about.

Educational records released by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a school Holmes considered attending, contained a letter of recommendation that described Holmes as having “a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.