James Holmes' girlfriend testifies: Horror movies, Google Chat, 'doing evil'

Ex-girlfriend Gargi Datta won't refer to James Holmes by name in her murder trial testimony

She was James E. Holmes' first sexual partner. On date No. 1, they attended a festival of horror films. He baked an onion-crusted chicken for her on Valentine's Day and lighted scented candles in his small apartment. He told her he loved her.

Today, Gargi Datta, the mass shooter's first and last girlfriend, barely refers to him at all.

Sitting in the witness box of Division 201 of the Arapahoe County Justice Center, where Holmes on trial for his life, Datta calls the 27-year-old "him" or "he" or, at most, "the defendant."

Holmes has acknowledged killing 12 moviegoers on July 20, 2012, and wounding 70 more. He faces 166 charges, including first-degree murder and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He could face the death penalty.

Datta and Holmes were both graduate students in the University of Colorado's neuroscience program. She sat in front of him in a tough lecture class and invited him to join a study group in their deeply competitive doctoral program.

Datta testified in Holmes' lengthy trial as a prosecution witness, someone who knew him at the start of their graduate program in 2011 and last saw him two months before he put on protective gear, slung an AR-15 across his chest and blasted his way through a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" at an Aurora, Colo., multiplex.

Prosecutors must prove to the jury that Holmes was sane at the time of the shooting -- that he was a careful planner and a stealthy, coldhearted killer. They are working to debunk the defense's position that Holmes deteriorated from being socially awkward to "floridly psychotic" in less than a year.

Datta painted a picture of a smart but troubled 20-something, whose sense of humor fell flat, whose preferred method of communication was electronic -- Google Chat -- and who told Datta he had lost his virginity before they met but told a court-appointed psychiatrist that she was really his first.

He was, she said, "pretty shy and closed-off at school. He wouldn't go and interact with other people."

"Do you know how much equipment he had amassed for a future crime?” Arapahoe County Dist. Atty. George H. Brauchler asked Datta Thursday morning.

"No," she said.

"At any point did you ever perceive the defendant in your opinion to be dangerous?" he asked.

"No," she replied.

Datta was also a means of placing into evidence a series of Google Chat instant messages, like the one he sent on March 25, 2012, after they had broken up but when they were still "friends with benefits," as Brauchler described it.

Holmes messaged her about "doing evil" and wrote about his philosophy of "human capital." She thought, at first, that he was joking.

Earlier in the trial, the prosecution played 22 hours of video, interviews between Holmes and a court-appointed psychiatrist. During those interviews, Holmes described his philosophy and what he told his girlfriend about it.

"The shootings were supposed to increase my self-worth," Holmes told the psychiatrist. "That would get me out of the depression.... I think it was in a text message I sent to Gargi about human capital, how you can place a value on a life and how, if you take life away, it can add to your own value."

At first, Datta said Thursday, "I was thinking he was just messing with me, joking. Then he starts talking about justice. At that point, I thought, maybe he was serious, but it seems to be philosophical."

Datta said she had no sense that Holmes was a threat, that any attack was imminent or that he had a plan in place. She said it was the first and only time he mentioned his philosophy. But she was concerned enough to show the back-and-forth to a mutual friend.

"I showed this chat to Ben Garcia," Datta said. "We were a bit concerned. We went to talk with him. We asked if he was talking to his therapist about the philosophy, and he said he was."

Datta did not -- and could not -- know that Holmes never did talk about his philosophy with his school psychiatrist, Lynne Fenton.

The last time Datta saw him was the end of the school year, May 18, 2012.

Two months later, a dozen people were dead, 70 more were wounded, and her former boyfriend was behind bars.

"Had you ever seen the defendant after he tried to murder a theater full of people," Brauchler asked Datta before she left the courtroom.

"No," she said.

maria.laganga@latimes.com

@marialaganga

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5:21 p.m.: This article was updated with more details on Holmes' relationship with Datta.

This article was originally published at 4:13 p.m.

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