DENVER (CN) - Accused mass murderer James Holmes was suffering schizophrenic delusions when he killed 12 people at a Batman movie, a schizophrenia expert testified Tuesday in his defense.
Holmes could be sentenced to death for the July 20, 2012, massacre at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. His attorneys claim he is not guilty for reason of insanity.
Dr. Raquel Gur, director of the Schizophrenia Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has met with Holmes six times, from December 2012 until August 2014. Under questioning Tuesday she told the Arapahoe County jury about Holmes' alleged illness, a schizoaffective disorder with delusional thinking: the foundation of the insanity plea.
Gur said she has examined defendants similar to Holmes, including Arizona mass murderer Jared Loughner and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Holmes' public defender Dan King questioned Gur at length about why Holmes had psychotic delusions that made him think that killing people would increase his "human capital" - a statement Holmes has made to several psychologists as the reason for his attack.
Gur suggested that Holmes, who was accepted into a prestigious neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Anschutz campus, fit the bill for a typical person who suffers from particularly dangerous delusions, which happen with more frequency in smarter people.
"You can see how the delusion builds," she told King. "His premise is unshaken. It's a very pervasive delusion. In some way, the higher functioning people, those with greater intellectual capacity, are the ones that come up with the most bizarre delusions."
"Why?" King asked.
"More elaborate thinking," Gur said. "Like the nature of the universe - [things] most of us just don't think about."
She drew parallels between Holmes and the Unabomber.
"Ted Kaczynski, with his bizarre delusions, had a similar level of intellectual functioning to Mr. Holmes," Gur said. "And IQs that are really high - it takes a certain level of intellectual ability to elaborate and take off and persist with it in a way that permeates a person's life. It's breaking from reality."
Gur described physical and behavioral elements in Holmes' behavior over the course of their sessions that suggested schizoaffective behavior, including "flatness of affect."
"Even before you talk to a person, you see the face," she said. "The face is one of the ways we communicate emotion. You look for hand movement - people commonly move when they express emotions. You look for tone of voice.
"For Mr. Holmes, the face was restricted. No matter what he spoke about, it didn't change. It was like frozen. His hands did not move. His voice - every word was slow and monotonous."
Gur said an MRI of Holmes' brain showed abnormalities that suggest a cognitive disorder, such as schizophrenia.
"There were several significant differences that were noted in [Holmes'] brain, compared to the normative sample," Gur said, citing the below-average size of the frontal-orbital part of the brain, the amygdala, and right frontal lobe. She said all of these play significant roles in emotional processing and decisionmaking.
"There is evidence on the MRI that when compared in a rigorous way to healthy people, he shows decrease in brain volume, in brain structures that are pertinent to emotion processing and to decision making," Gur said.
District Attorney George Brauchler, the lead prosecutor, told the jury that, though Gur is the director of a renowned center for schizophrenic research, she is not a licensed forensic psychiatrist.
"You are not a board-certified psychiatrist?" Brauchler asked.
"Are you a board-certified neuropsychiatrist?"
"You're not a board-certified forensic fill-in-the-blank anything?"
Brauchler asked if Gur was confident in her report, which concluded that Holmes was insane.
"I had enough information in my first report to opine with medical certainty," Gur said. "But differently, in the following months, based on all the information available, if I had concluded that the first report was inaccurate, I would have said so."
Brauchler concluded his questioning by confirming that it took Gurr 23 months to interview Holmes' parents - after Gur had written her insanity report.
Gur returns to the stand Wednesday in Judge Carlos Samour Jr.'s Eighteenth District Court.
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