James Holmes’ notebook: Opposing views of Aurora shooter’s mind-set
Day 18 of the Aurora, Colo., shooting trial was an exercise in the old adage: The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
The book quoted Tuesday from the witness stand in Division 201 of the Arapahoe County Justice Center, however, was not the Bible. Instead, it was an unassuming brown notebook with a metal spiral along its spine and the musings of a mass killer inside.
James Holmes, who is on trial for his life, has acknowledged shooting 12 moviegoers to death and severely wounding 70 others in a Denver suburb on July 20, 2012, in one of the worst mass shootings in American history. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the 166 charges against him.
The prosecution is about halfway through its case against the 27-year-old. More than 150 witnesses have testified, and jurors have heard four weeks of alternating heartbreak and tedium.
Victims have described watching loved ones die, seeing their own limbs shattered, being covered in other people’s blood. Tech experts have testified in mind-numbing detail about IP addresses, how PayPal works and how credit card information lives online.
Jurors have wiped away tears; at least one has been admonished to stay awake.
Holmes’ mental state is the central question facing jurors, and Arapahoe County Dist. Atty. George H. Brauchler has suggested that it would probably be broached this week by those most knowledgeable about it -- the psychiatrists and psychologists who have examined the defendant.
But first prosecutors introduced the key piece of evidence in the case: P-TR-341.
Also known as Holmes’ personal notebook, it is full of the shooter’s chilling plans to kill innocent people, his incomprehensible musings about life, death and everything in between, and six pages scrawled with a single word, over and over, larger and larger. “Why.”
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. ruled that Aurora Police Sgt. Matthew Fyles was not allowed to simply read all 29 pages of notes and diagrams aloud in court Tuesday. Instead, jurors were given copies of the document to read after Fyles testified about the journal.
Prosecutor Karen Pearson walked the sergeant through a description of the book and then asked him to read specially chosen sections.
First Fyles quoted from Holmes’ deliberations about how best to kill the most people. Biological weapons require too much knowledge, Holmes wrote; serial killing, too much contact with victims; and bombs are too well regulated.
The upshot? “‘Mass murder/spree,’” Fyles read. “‘Check mark.’”
Then Fyles read the notebook section about how Holmes chose his target: “‘Venue,’” Fyles read, “‘airport or movie theater.’ Then it says ‘airport’ with an X. ‘Substantial security. Too much of a terrorist history. Terrorism isn’t the message.
“‘The message is, there is no message. Most fools will misinterpret correlation for causation, namely, relationship and work failures as causes. Both were expediting catalysts, not the reason. Causation being my state of mind for the past 15 years.’”
In an effort to convince the jury that Holmes was a thoughtful and sane killer, Pearson also had Fyles read sections about how Holmes methodically considered various theaters in the Century 16 cineplex for his massacre.
The shooter weighed them for their closeness to parking, Fyles told the jury, how inconspicuous Holmes would be while shooting, and how he could “‘lock double doors, inflicting more casualties.’”
And then she asked Fyles to read from page 53 of Holmes’ notebook, a kind of notes-to-self section, a terrifying to-do list: “Buy stun gun and folding knife. Research firearm laws and mental illness. Buy handgun ... acquire remote detonation equipment and body armor. Practicing shooting at Byers Canyon Rifle Range.”
Pearson did not have Fyles read the very next sentence.
Instead, defense attorney Daniel King chose to read it himself, after pointing out just how much of the rambling document Pearson had ignored.
The point, of course, is that Pearson’s segments emphasized a cool planner; King’s segments showed a man so sick he did not know the consequences of his actions.
This is how King’s cross-examination unfolded Tuesday afternoon, as he read aloud from Holmes’ journal and asked Fyles to confirm that he was, indeed, quoting the document accurately.
King: “‘First appearance of mania occurs. Not good mania.’ Correct?”
King: “‘Anxiety and fear disappears. No more fear. No more fear of failure.... No fear of consequences. Primary driver, aversion to, hatred of, mankind. Intense aversion to people, cause unknown. Began long ago. Suppressed by greater fear of others. No more fear. Hatred unchecked. Start small.’
“And this is where you begin the section where you read on direct examination about the purchasing of the different weapons he describes there, correct?”
King: “The section that you read before ends with, ‘Practice shooting at Byres Canyon Rifle Range.’ The next line is, ‘Can’t tell the mind rapist’s plan. If plan is disclosed, both normal life and ideal enactment on hatred fails.’
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