Mass Murderer Had Normal Youth, Dad Says

     DENVER (CN) – Mass murderer James Holmes’ sister and father on Tuesday told the jury about the childhood of the man who could be sentenced to death for killing 12 people and wounding 70 at a Batman movie.
     The nine-woman, three-man jury convicted Holmes on all 165 counts two weeks ago, including murder. After the sentencing phase, the jury must sentence him to death or life in prison.
     Holmes’ younger sister, Chris Holmes, began her testimony Monday and finished Tuesday morning, describing their lives as siblings five years apart. Both she and their father, Robert Holmes, referred to Holmes affectionately as Jimmy.
     Chris told the jury in Arapahoe County Court that she had benefited from having her brother around as a child.
     “It was nice to know that I had someone who was always there, in the same house as me, that I could talk to,” she said.
     “He had your back?” asked Tamara Brady, one of Holmes’ five public defenders.
     “Yes. Especially when we were younger. We used to be very, very close. And … I love him a lot.”
     She said that her brother got along well with the rest of his family as he was growing up, especially his younger relatives. She said his younger cousins “loved him.”
     “He was really good with them,” she said. “Sometimes I was jealous of how much they really seemed to like him.”
     Brady asked Chris Holmes about her Aunt Betty, who, like her brother, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
     “We’d go there every Thanksgiving to their apartment. She was always very nice,” Chris said. “I could also tell she was mentally ill in some form.”
     She said her parents had never talked about her aunt’s diagnosis with her or with her brother.
     Her early memories of her big brother were good ones.
     “Living in Salinas, I would play sports with him, like basketball, when I was really, really little,” Chris said. “That’s one of the earliest [memories] I remember.”
     Asked if she remembered him reading to her, she replied, “That’s what I’ve been told.”
     She told the jury that she followed her older brother around to the point where that it must have been “annoying.”
     “I am five years younger, so I wanted to do what he was doing,” she said. “We got along pretty well.”
     She was asked to read a letter that her mother, Arlene Holmes, transcribed for James in 1994, when Chris was an infant. Holmes said that Chris had “soft cute skin – you are a happy baby” and that “I wish you could play marbles with me. You can when you are older.”
     “I think it’s very cute,” Chris said after she’d read the note to the court. “It makes me know that he really does love me, even when I was only one.”
     Chris said their relationship changed when Holmes got older and she entered adolescence.
     “I think moving was really hard on him,” she said of the family’s move from Salinas, California to San Diego. “We stopped playing together as much, and like, playing sports or whatever it happened to be, we didn’t spend as much time together.”
     The defense asked Chris if she felt she was similar to her brother.
     “I’ve heard my whole life that I tended to be the more extroverted and he tended to be the more introverted,” she said after a moment of thought. “[He was] definitely very organized, and I was not.”
     Chris has seen her brother just once, in May 2014, since the July 20, 2012 shooting.
     “It was pretty good,” she said of their meeting. “He was more responsive than I thought he might be.”
     She said he “seemed happy” to see her, but “his eyes seemed a lot different. His whole demeanor in general was a little bit different.”
     Their father then testified that his son’s trial has been “a difficult experience.”
     His father said he had no idea that his son had been contemplating mass murder, having intrusive thoughts, and exhibiting other manifestations of schizophrenia.
     Holmes’ schizoaffective disorder was the foundation for his insanity plea, which the jury rejected in its July 16 conviction on all counts.
     Robert remembered his only son as being “a pretty excellent kid.”
     “Do you still love him?” Brady asked.
     “Yes I do,” Robert said. “He’s my son.”
     The defense team showed the court photos of the young Holmes on family trips. One showed a young, grinning Holmes holding bunny ears behind his Grandma Helen’s head.
     Brady asked his father about his son’s adolescence.
     “Academically, he continued to do very well,” Robert said. “He seemed fairly typical He had a few friends that he hung out with. Socially, he still seemed pretty isolated, but he was still doing well at school, still participating in sports.”
     Asked if he was concerned about his son’s isolation, Robert said he was not.
     “I was kind of the same way. His path was very similar to mine.”
     Robert said his son almost never brought friends home, and graduated from the University of California at Riverside with high honors in neuroscience. When he applied to graduate schools, he sought the best ones.
     “He didn’t have any kind of safety school. He was just applying to the best schools in the country,” Robert said. “They have very small numbers of people they accept.”
     But James Holmes discovered was not accepted at a top-tier school.
     “I think he was disappointed,” Robert said. “He did nothing for a while. I guess that went on for a few months. And then, he was just living at home, he had moved back in. He’d be playing video games, he’d stay up late, he kept to his college schedule.
     “He didn’t necessarily seem depressed to me, but he didn’t seem happy.”
     Holmes eventually got a job at a pill factory and applied to other graduate programs. He was accepted into the neuroscience program at the Colorado University Anschutz campus, and moved to Denver in 2011 to prepare for his first year of school. The last time Robert saw his son before the shooting was in December 2011.
     “He was really sick,” Robert said. “He just really looked sick and weak, and he didn’t seem to be doing very well at all.”
     Holmes was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with mono. He spent his last break at home in San Diego “sleeping and resting,” his father said.
     Between January and July 2012, Robert said, he and his wife had little contact with their son. Most of their communication was by email.
     The defense played several voicemails Robert left on his son’s phone, which were rarely returned as James grew more distant.
     The father said he became concerned when James told him he had broken up with his girlfriend. His wife, Arlene, received a call from Dr. Lynne Fenton, Holmes’ first psychiatrist.
     “She called Arlene to let us know that he was dropping out of school, that he was seeing a psychiatrist,” Robert said. “We didn’t know he had seen a psychiatrist at all. That’s all she was able to tell us.
     “I thought it would be really natural for him to be very depressed. I know he wanted graduate school … We knew he didn’t feel this was a good fit.”
     Robert said he suspected his son might have Asperger’s syndrome, due to his increasingly anti-social behavior, and several strange “facial expressions” he’d noticed him make over Christmas break.
     “It was more like just kind of an odd facial expression,” Robert said. “He also wasn’t making very good eye contact. It was something I noticed back then.
     “I’d been reading in Yahoo about Asperger’s. To me it seemed to fit.”
     One of his last conversations with his son before the shooting was unusually long.
     “It turned out to be a really long conversation. He was talking quite a bit,” his father said. “He didn’t seem depressed. He did seem to be making sense and everything. So we had a talk, at that point we were telling them that we were arranging to come out and see him.
     “It was unusual but it wasn’t alarming. He usually didn’t talk that much.”
     The night Robert and Arlene Holmes found out about the shooting, they assumed their son had been a victim.
     “Arlene and I were asleep in San Diego,” Robert said. “We received a phone call from somebody in the media who had said there was a shooting, and my first thought, of course, was that Jim had been shot. So my initial impression was that it was probably some gang thing.
     “It didn’t occur to me that he would be the shooter.
     “Once we found out, very shortly thereafter the media arrived in front of our house along with the police and the FBI,” Robert said. “I just sent an email to work that I had a family emergency. And then I booked a flight to Denver.”
     Robert has seen his son three times since he’s been in jail.
     “We got to see him shortly after the shooting while he still had his red hair,” Robert said. He said that the son he saw in Denver didn’t seem like the “Jimmy” he knew.
     “He was clearly really messed up. His eyes were bulging out, his pupils were dilated. He told us he loved us, which was good. But I could see that something was really wrong with him.”
     Near the end of his testimony, Robert was asked if he would continue to visit his son in jail.
     “Yes, we will.”
     “Will you always?” Brady asked.
     “Yes.”
     District Attorney George Brauchler, the lead prosecutor, spent the last hour of court time Tuesday cross-examining Robert
     “There were some hiccups that went along with his upbringing,” Brauchler said. “When he was eight … your wife took the defendant to a social worker because he had been acting out at home. Is that fair?”
     “Yes,” Robert said. They took their son to a social worker because he had been “throwing things.”
     “He had sort of a late terrible twos, or something,” Robert said.
     Brauchler asked about the nature of later sessions the whole family attended together after they relocated to San Diego. Robert said those therapy meetings were to “help the family get adjusted to the move.”
     Holmes’ mother was expected to testify Wednesday.
     Judge Carlos Samour Jr. said he expects closing arguments on Thursday.

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