School faces new questions in Colo. massacre
- Article by: DAN ELLIOTT and NICHOLAS RICCARDI
- Associated Press
- April 5, 2013 - 2:45 AM
CENTENNIAL, Colo. - New questions are confronting the university that Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes attended amid disclosures that a psychiatrist warned campus police a month before the deadly assault that Holmes was dangerous and had homicidal thoughts.
Court documents made public Thursday cited Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado, Denver who had treated Holmes. The documents said Fenton told a campus police officer in June that the shooting suspect also threatened and intimidated her.
It was more than a month before the July 20 attack at a movie theater that killed 12 and injured 70.
Campus police Officer Lynn Whitten told investigators after the shooting that Fenton had contacted her. Whitten said Fenton was following her legal requirement to report threats to authorities, according one of the documents, a search warrant affidavit.
"Dr. Fenton advised that through her contact with James Holmes she was reporting, per her requirement, his danger to the public due to homicidal statements he had made," the affidavit said.
Whitten added that Fenton said she began to receive threatening text messages from Holmes after he stopped seeing her for counseling, the documents said.
It was not clear if Fenton's blunt warning about Holmes reached other university officials. Whitten told investigators she deactivated Holmes' access card after hearing from Fenton, but the affidavit did not say other action she took.
Whitten did not immediately respond to messages left at her home and office Thursday. University spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said she could not comment because the school had not reviewed the court records.
The indication that a psychiatrist had called Holmes a danger to the public gave momentum to Democratic state lawmakers' plans to introduce legislation to further restrict mentally ill people from buying guns. State Rep. Beth McCann initially cited the information Thursday as a reason she would introduce a bill as soon as Friday, but quickly backed off and said no date has been set.
The theater massacre already helped inspire a new state ban on large-capacity firearm magazines.
Holmes had enrolled in the university's Ph.D. neuroscience program in 2011 but resigned about six weeks before the shootings after failing a key examination.
In the days after the attack, university officials released little information about Holmes or how it responded to concerns about him. University officials cited both a gag order in the criminal case and federal privacy laws.
"To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done," university Chancellor Don Elliman said three days after the attack.
Campus police also said they had never had contact with Holmes. University officials acknowledged a criminal background check had been run on Holmes, but the person who requested the background check has not been publicly identified.
When prosecutors said in court that the university had banned Holmes from campus, university officials denied that. They said Holmes' access card had been deactivated because he had left the neuroscience program.
That statement could not immediately be reconciled with Whitten's statement in the affidavit that she deactivated Holmes' card because of Fenton's concerns.
The documents released Thursday were previously sealed, but the new judge overseeing the case ordered them released after requests from news organizations including The Associated Press.
District Judge Carlos Samour took over this week after the previous judge, who had sealed the documents, removed himself. Judge William Sylvester handed off to Samour on Monday, saying the case would take up so much time that he couldn't carry out his administrative duties as chief judge of a four-county district.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys had raised concerns about releasing the documents. Prosecutors said they were worried about the privacy of victims and witnesses if the records were released. Attorneys for Holmes said they didn't want to hurt his chances for a fair trial.
Sylvester had said he was reluctant to release the documents before the preliminary hearing, when prosecutors laid out evidence on whether Holmes could be brought to trial. That hearing was held in January, with investigators giving the names and injuries of every theater victim in graphic detail.
Media organizations said there has been a "wealth of information already made public in the proceedings thus far." They argued there was no basis for the documents to remain sealed.
Samour said lawyers failed to show that releasing the records would cause any harm, or that keeping the documents sealed would prevent any harm.
Sylvester entered a plea of not guilty on Holmes' behalf. Defense lawyers revealed last week that Holmes had offered to plead guilty, but prosecutors rejected the offer and announced Monday they would seek the death penalty.
Associated Press writer Catherine Tsai contributed to this report.
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