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Colorado shooting suspect was seeing psychiatrist

James Holmes’ lawyers argue his constitutional rights have been violated by information leaked to the media.

Associated Press

James Holmes’ lawyers argue his constitutional rights have been violated by information leaked to the media.

AURORA, Colo. — The suspect in the Colorado theater rampage was seeing a University of Colorado psychiatrist who studies schizophrenia, according to court records released Friday, indicating for the first time that university officials were familiar with James Holmes' mental state.

Holmes, 24, was a patient of Lynne Fenton, the medical director of student mental health services at the university, according to the suspect's lawyers. Holmes withdrew from a Ph.D. program in neuroscience after taking oral exams in early June.

Police say that Holmes carried out a methodically planned assault on moviegoers in a sold-out theater on July 20, employing legally purchased guns that he began acquiring in May. Twelve people died in the attack, and 58 were injured.

After the 2007 mass shooting that left 33 dead at Virginia Tech, the University of Colorado set up a special team to spot students who were suicidal or might pose a threat to others. There is no indication that the team — made up of mental-health professionals, campus police and others — had identified Holmes as a student in need of monitoring.

Campus police, whose officers participate in the Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team, have said they had no contact with Holmes. Other team members reached in recent days declined to discuss Holmes.

University chancellor Don Elliman told reporters this week that to his knowledge, "We did everything we should have done in this case."

Michael Carrigan, chairman of the University of Colorado regents, said he couldn't comment on Holmes in particular and said he didn't know what might have brought him to the attention of the BETA team. But Carrigan said the team has improved campus life. "It has brought to our attention, much sooner, kids who are at a threat for harming themselves," such as students considering suicide, he said.

Holmes sent a notebook to Fenton sometime before the shooting rampage, his lawyers said in a motion filed Friday. The notebook included a journal of sorts and crude drawings depicting a mass gun attack, according to news reports.

But whether the package reached the university mailroom before or after the tragedy is in dispute. Police seized the package Monday, but Fenton had never opened it, according to court records.

Holmes' lawyers at the public defender's office have asked Colorado District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester to help them find out whether law enforcement officers or prosecutors leaked information to the media about the notebook and its contents this week. The lawyers argue that Holmes' privacy and constitutional rights have been violated and that investigators are not necessarily entitled to see the troubled student's communication with his psychiatrist.

"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 in serious jeopardy," the public defenders, Daniel King and Tamara Brady, wrote.

Sylvester has imposed a gag order on the lawyers and law enforcement agencies involved in the Holmes case, sealed court records, and barred the university from releasing relevant public records to the media. News organizations are contesting his order.

University officials have declined to discuss the notebook but have acknowledged that a package mailed to a university staffer was seized by police Monday as evidence in the case.

Fenton, who has served as mental-health services medical director since 2009, has conducted numerous research projects in the area of schizophrenia. She did not respond to calls to her home and office.

Her clinical practice includes treating "15 to 20 graduate students per week" with counseling and medication, according to her biography on the university website. Because of her senior role, she also supervises psychiatric residents who treat students, the site says. She has lectured on bipolar disorders and borderline personalities.

University officials have refused to disclose much about Holmes, citing an order from the judge barring it from releasing information that would "impede an ongoing investigation." Staff, professors and classmates have been mum about his life at the school.

Colorado shooting suspect was seeing psychiatrist 07/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 11:04pm]
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