Weepy Colo. Mass Murderer’s Mom Testifies

     DENVER (CN) – After describing her son’s normal, happy childhood, the mother of mass murderer James Holmes wept on the witness stand Wednesday as she told the jury, “I didn’t realize that his loudest cry for help was silence.”
     Arlene Holmes said she was “totally shocked” when she learned that her son had killed 12 people and wounded 70 at a midnight premier of a “Batman” movie on July 20, 2012.
     “I was totally shocked that he used a gun,” she said. “We were never hunters or target shooters. When I heard, I thought, ‘How does he even know how to use a gun?'”
     The Arapahoe County jury convicted Holmes of all 165 charges against him, including murder. In the sentencing phase, they must sentence him either to death or to life in prison.
     In day-long testimony, Arlene Holmes described a childhood that was almost preternaturally normal – good grades, church, nature hikes, loving relatives, a pre-college internship at a prestigious medical institute – then sudden mental disintegration.
     His mother said her son stopped returning his parents’ concerned phone calls in the weeks before the massacre at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo. The last time they spoke was by phone on July 4, two weeks before the murders.
     Arlene Holmes said her only clue was a call from Dr. Lynne Fenton, her son’s first psychiatrist, who saw him for social anxiety in the months before the shooting. Fenton called her at her home in San Diego and told her that her son had dropped out of school.
     “Did she ever tell you she had concerns he’d expressed homicidal ideations?” asked Rebekka Higgs, one of Holmes’ five public defenders.
     “No. Never.”
     “Do you wish she had?”
     “Of course I do, of course,” Arlene Holmes said through tears. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if she had told me that.”
     “Would you have been out here the next day?” Higgs asked.
     “I would have been crawling on all fours to get to him. He’s never said that he wanted to kill people. She didn’t tell me.”
     Arlene recalled her final Fourth of July phone call with Holmes, who spent much of the conversation asking after his sister Chris, who was having trouble in school.
     “Quite a bit of that conversation was about her,” Arlene said. “He wanted to know why she hadn’t passed all her classes. He said, ‘Please tell her that five classes is too many. She shouldn’t have taken so much. It’s too hard in college to do that much.’
     “It lasted a long time. Usually he’s quick on the phone or email. He must have talked to us for a good half hour. That’s unusual.”
     Holmes’ sister Chris on Tuesday told the jury about her good relationship with her older brother as they grew up. “We used to be very, very close. And … I love him a lot,” Chris Holmes testified.
     On Wednesday, Holmes’ defense team asked his mother about her son’s relationships with relatives. She said his grandmother Helen, who was his first close family member to pass away, used to drive to San Diego from her home in Los Angeles and take James and his sister for days at a time.
     Defense attorneys played a clip of young James making gingerbread cookies with his grandma, excitedly asking, “When we’re done taking our nap, can we eat all these?”
     Arlene said her son was “very sad” when his grandmother died of cancer in 2008.
     “That was a long-term relationship from birth,” Arlene said. “He didn’t say much. My brother gave the eulogy.”
     “Did he talk about being sad?” Higgs asked.
     “No he did not. But I could certainly tell that he was. We went to the gravesite, and that was when I could see that he really was looking sad.”
     Another important relationship James had in his childhood was with her brother, “Uncle Dex,” who had no children. “So he really looked forward to Jim and was interested in him and wanted to know what he was doing and took delight in playing with him,” Arlene said. “As he got older, the kids would fly up to my brother’s and stay with him and his wife.”
     She said her son “got a kick out of” Dex’s ride-on mower, and helped him tend his roses.
     Defense attorneys showed photos and video clips of a young James on family excursions, playing poker with Monopoly money, singing “Surfin’ USA,” and running on the beach. Arlene said Dex was usually the one behind the camera.
     Dex died a month after the massacre.
     “Did he want Jimmy to know that he still loved him and cared about him?” Higgs asked.
     “Yes, he definitely wanted Jim to know that he was thinking about him even as he was dying,” Arlene said.
     “And that he loved him?” Higgs said.
     “And that he loved him.”
     The attorneys moved on to Holmes’ relationship with his sister Chris, five years his junior. Arlene said her son had been “excited” to get a sister.
     “We took him to a big brother sibling class at a local hospital where they could show him what babies eat and how tiny they were to prep him,” Arlene said. “He really liked that.”
     The jury was shown photos of Jim and Chris as an infant. In one, he is reading her a Disney book. “He’d climb in her crib and he’d read to her,” their mother said.
     She said that in early childhood her children got along well, and their only “spats” stemmed from Chris’ attachment to her brother.
     “When he was with friends, she’d be in the way because she was littler than the rest of them. Chris was insistent that Jim would play. She wouldn’t leave him alone. She said one time: ‘I must bug the crap out of him.'”
     As Chris entered adolescence, the siblings grew apart, their mother said. “They each had their own activities. They were different.”
     But she said she “never had any concern” that the two had become estranged.
     “Has she abandoned your son?” Higgs asked.
     “Quite the opposite actually,” Arlene said. “She’s always wondering how he is. I told her about the allegations and she said, ‘I need to come out.'”
     When James was young, his mother said, he was a “very studious person, very self-motivated. We never had to tell him to do his homework … very independent.”
     She described her son’s internship at the prestigious Salk Institute the summer after he graduated from high school, and his Regent Scholarship, which earned him a full ride to the University of California at Riverside to study neuroscience.
     Higgs asked if Arlene found it strange that her son did not walk through his graduation ceremonies from UC-Riverside.
     “We were teasing him that we’d go find some foreign student that didn’t have parents,” Arlene said. “But I didn’t attend my grad ceremony at UC Berkeley. I was just done, so it wasn’t that weird.”
     Attorneys showed the jury videos of Holmes practicing the piano and singing “Jingle Bells,” and a choir concert in which Holmes and his young peers sing “Frosty the Snowman.”
     Those memories were starkly contrasted with Arlene’s recollections of her son’s behavior after he graduated from UC Riverside, but failed to get into any graduate programs.
     “That was a difficult time,” Arlene said. “He came home, and didn’t come home with a plan. And I’m a planner, so that was hard for me to accept that he didn’t know what he was going to do next.
     “He slept a lot, stayed up late, and slept in. He did some gaming and TV. I just didn’t see him as the guy that was so motivated and busy that I had seen prior. He was not talking or getting up and doing stuff. Once in a while going out with his friends, but almost never.
     “I got mad. I told him, ‘You need to get up and do something. Get a job. You didn’t get into grad school, you must do something.'”
     She said her son did not “react angrily,” or even respond to her request, but got on the computer and started job hunting. He signed up with a temp agency that placed him in a pill factory.
     “In two weeks he was working full time,” Arlene said. “Ten-hour shifts, four times a week.”
     Arlene said James knew he’d botched his only interview for grad school, at UC Irvine, but he was accepted into Colorado University’s Anschutz program, where he remained until he dropped out in April 2012, three months before the shooting.
     Asked about the family’s religious convictions, Arlene said she had her son baptized.
     “I was raised in the Christian faith. I still am a Christian and I believe in the principals of that faith. Baptism is a way to recognize that you are a part of the church and a part of the faith and that you recognize the existence of God.”
     Eventually, she said, she had to bribe her children to go to church, with promises of meals at Taco Bell, then James reached an age where he had too many “scientific doubts” about the religion.
     “After we moved back to San Diego, he was old enough to ask me questions about why I could believe something that wasn’t tangible. He didn’t use that word, but he was old enough to start being scientific and questioning. ‘How can you believe God exists, that God created everything?'” Arlene said.
     “His questions were not answered to his satisfaction, that he could believe in these things without proof.”
     The natural world was important to the family, “Very important, a priority,” Arlene said. “To keep active and not get overweight, and to be appreciating creation and to learn about plants.
     “We have farming in my background. I still have relatives who are farmers. I think it’s really important to understand how things grow.”
     On nature hikes, she said, her husband and daughter would lead and James would “stay back” with her, to make sure she “was OK.”
     “Somebody had to,” Arlene said.
     “Based on knowing your son since he was born, in your experience with him, have you ever known him to be a mean or mean-spirited person?” Higgs asked.
     “No, the opposite,” Arlene said. “I would say he was sensitive to what people were thinking and needing.”
     She said her son did volunteer work from an early age, with his church, the Red Cross and other groups. After a day with the Red Cross, he would take his reward, a Chili’s appetizer coupon, and take the family to dinner.
     “I think he enjoyed it,” Arlene said.
     She read excerpts of a school report James wrote about his community service, saying that people who help others “can know they did something useful in their society.”
     He worked as a camp counselor after he graduated from high school, before college.
     “That was his choice,” Arlene said. “He went to get the job himself. He had a lot of concern for the kids that they weren’t too homesick or crying. He came home once for a four -day weekend and told us about different kids. Some of them had never been away from home before.
     “He liked kids a lot. They kind of gravitated towards him because he was so quiet.”
     In college, Holmes took in refugees from a wildfire in San Diego, and helped a neighbor woman in her eighties by picking up groceries and helping around her apartment.
     “He would take her garbage out for her because it’s too heavy to push,” Arlene said.
     She has seen her son three times since the shooting.
     “Would you like to be able to visit more?” Higgs asked.
     Higgs inquired why she hadn’t.
     “Part of it is that he needs to be protected,” Arlene said. “We can’t just go to the visitor room like any other inmate family arrangement. He needs security. I guess that’s obvious from the courtroom.
     “And it’s inconvenient for law enforcement to make these arrangements, but they did it and got the extra security for us to be able to see him.”
     She said she has flown to Denver 12 times to see her son since the shooting.
     “It’s just not always possible to come and see him.”
     Prosecutor Karen Pearson, an assistant district attorney for Arapahoe County, declined to cross-examine Holmes’ mother.
     Judge Samour Jr. then read several questions from the jury, including whether Arlene had ever seen James cry.
     “Earlier as a kid, I did see tears when the dog died,” Arlene said. “I did see tears when his dad got real sick from a business trip to Washington, D.C. and came back with pneumonia. He was crying because he was worried.”
     In response to a juror question about whether James as affectionate, she said that he was “as a young child,” but he was not a “constant hugger.”
     A juror inquired about his talkativeness, and Arlene said he did spoke more freely when he was little than when he grew up.
     Arlene writes to her son at least once a week, often enclosing recent photos of the family.
     “It’s important because I want him to remember,” she said. “I don’t want him to forget the past. And hopefully … he can carve out some kind of a future in these circumstances, based on what he was in the past.”
     Closing arguments were expected Thursday morning.

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