Colorado suspect was seeing psychiatrist, attorneys say

AURORA, Colo. — Before the movie theater massacre last week, the suspected gunman had been seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado and mailed her a package containing a notebook, according to a motion filed by James E. Holmes’ public defenders.

In the filing released Friday, Holmes’ lawyers say that after law enforcement executed a search warrant at the University of Colorado-Denver this week and seized the package addressed to Dr. Lynne Fenton, someone leaked information about it to the media — including allegations that Holmes had alerted law enforcement to it. The release of such information would violate a gag order issued by the judge in the case.
PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

“The government’s disclosure of this confidential and privileged information has placed Mr. Holmes’ constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury at serious jeopardy,” Holmes’ lawyers wrote.

The filing did not say why Holmes, 24, was seeing Fenton, who did not return calls to her office Friday. At the brick home in Denver where she is believed to live, the windows were closed and no one answered the door.

Fenton, 51, graduated from UC Davis in 1982 and Chicago Medical School in 1986. She completed a residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Medical Center in 1990. After working as chief of physical medicine for the U.S. Air Force in San Antonio, as a physician in Aurora, and later as an acupuncturist, she completed a second residency in psychiatry at the University of Colorado in 2008, according to a resume on the school’s website.

She has been an assistant professor and, for the last three years, medical director of the student mental health service at the university’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, where Holmes had been a neuroscience doctoral student until he began the process of withdrawing in June.

“Most students receive combined treatment of psychotherapy and medications from a single provider” at the center, according to a center brochure, and the center staff “consults with [medical school] staff regarding students of concern.”

Fenton is also listed as a member of the faculty at the medical school’s Schizophrenia Research Center and has received grants to study the effects of various drugs on schizophrenics.

On May 30, Fenton helped make a presentation at the psychiatry department called “World of Warcraft: The Use of Archetypes in Psychotherapy.” World of Warcraft, a popular multi-player role-playing video game, was among those Holmes played, according to a former roommate at UC Riverside.

In the motion released Friday, Holmes’ lawyers demanded access to the package seized from the university mailroom, the names of the investigators involved in testing it for explosives, the chain of custody, specifics related to the questioning of Holmes about the package and potential leaks to the media.

News outlets have cited unidentified sources in reporting that Holmes mailed a notebook to the medical campus before the July 20 attack, when a gunman sprayed a crowded Aurora theater that was showing the latest Batman movie. The notebook was said to contain drawings of stick figures being shot and a written description of a coming attack, according to Fox News, which first reported on the notebook’s existence. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies refused to comment on the reports.

University officials confirmed they had received a suspicious package on Monday, three days after the assault that left 12 dead and 58 injured — about a dozen of whom remained hospitalized Friday, five in critical condition.

The package was “immediately investigated and turned over to authorities within hours of delivery,” a university statement said — contradicting media reports that it had arrived before the attack but sat around unopened until Monday.

Arapahoe County Dist. Atty. Carol Chambers filed a motion Friday asking the judge to reject the public defenders’ request, denying authorities had leaked any information and noting as evidence the inaccuracy of media reports. Contrary to those reports, she said, the Police Department took custody of the package, not the FBI; one search warrant was needed, not two; and the package remained “secured and not examined.”

Chambers dismissed a report that Holmes had alerted investigators to the package as “just another inaccurate media report floating adrift in a sea of inaccurate media reports relating to this case.”

Investigators were still assembling evidence from the mailroom, she wrote, including video that may show the contents of the notebook and that therefore has been sealed.

Holmes’ lawyers demanded a hearing, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Centennial, Colo., where Holmes was already expected to appear to face charges. District Judge William B. Sylvester plans to address both issues, court spokesman Jon Sarche said. Late Friday, Sylvester issued another order: Monday’s hearing also will address a motion filed by more than two dozen media outlets, including The Times, to expedite a hearing on unsealing Holmes’ court file.

Media attorneys said in a motion Friday, “The public has an obvious and legitimate interest in knowing on a timely basis the actions being taken by government officials — law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges — responsible for the investigation, prosecution and trial of the defendant. Yet virtually all records now on file with the court in connection with this case are under seal.”

In the meantime, investigators sought to trace Holmes’ trail into the mountains north of Denver, searching for witnesses who may have seen him with firearms. In Hot Sulphur Springs, a town of 500 people about 95 miles northwest of Denver, investigators stopped by a local gun shop and hotel.

Clark Branstetter, owner of C&M; Guns, said he spoke with local sheriff’s deputies last Friday, followed by FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents on Monday and Tuesday.

“I just had all the agencies up here asking the same questions — did I see the gentleman?” he said of Holmes. “For some reason they suspect he was through here in June a few times. The ATF agent seems to think in June he even had the red hair.”

Nearby, the manager of the 14-room Canyon Motel in Hot Sulphur Springs said he also spoke with the FBI about Holmes this week. Agents had him search the motel database of past guests, Angus Simpson said, but Holmes was not among them.

Simpson, who has worked at the motel for two years, said he did not remember seeing Holmes.

“We’re a small mountain community,” he said, “and somebody with orange hair would stick out, other than in hunting season.”

Times staff writers Laura Nelson and Phil Willon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.