Theater shooter's hatred for therapists kept them in dark

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The person closest to the murderous thoughts of James Holmes before the neuroscience student unleashed an attack on a Colorado movie theater -- someone Holmes tried to keep in the dark -- will take the witness stand Tuesday.

Dr. Lynne Fenton saw Holmes five times in 2012 and prescribed him drugs for anxiety and depression, concerned he had a social phobia after he confessed to thoughts of killing people, according to testimony in his death-penalty trial.

Fenton will be called to testify Tuesday, District Attorney George Brauchler said Monday. Her testimony is highly anticipated because despite her tense relationship with Holmes, she was the mental-health professional closest to him before the shooting.

Holmes said he pointedly kept Fenton uninformed as he plotted his attack. He never told her about the arsenal of weapons he was assembling. His elaborate schemes and to-do lists were kept in a journal he didn't send to her until hours before his assault, and it lingered in a campus mailroom for days thereafter.

His list for their sessions included: "Prevent building false sense of rapport ... deflect incriminating questions ... can't tell the mind rapists plan."

Whether anyone could have stopped him from killing 12 people, wounding 58 with gunfire and leaving 12 others injured in the chaos is a question asked by many people watching his trial.

"I kind of regret that she didn't lock me up so that everything could have been avoided," Holmes said more than two years later in an interview with a doctor hired by the court to evaluate whether he was legally sane when he opened fire.

But in the same recorded interview, Holmes also said he kept the details to himself so no one could thwart his plans.

Fenton has never spoken publicly about their sessions. She remains bound by the trial judge's gag order, and a civil suit claims she should have done more to stop Holmes. But Holmes waived his patient-client privilege when he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, making her testimony possible.

Clearly, their relationship was difficult.

"I think Mr. Holmes was very angry at Dr. Fenton," said Jeffrey Metzner, the first of two court-ordered doctors to evaluate Holmes ahead of the trial.

Holmes was a graduate student in neuroscience with a particular interest in the biological basis for psychiatric disorders. But his journal entries show contempt and distrust for the psychiatrists who treated him.

Meanwhile, he was self-diagnosing the symptoms: He felt catatonic, he was tired, he pulled his hair, he was manic, he obsessed about his looks and, since childhood, he had an obsession to kill.

In page after page of angry scrawls, he described a litany of mental illnesses he felt no one else had managed to observe: dysphoric mania, schizophrenia, Asperger's syndrome, trichotillomania, adjustment disorder and pain disorder.

Holmes later dismissed Fenton as more interested in drug effects than psychoanalysis. He told psychiatrist William Reid, the second court-ordered examiner, he "knew it was an artificial relationship because she's being paid."

Fenton brought in a colleague for backup, prosecutors said.

"Oddly, they don't pursue or delve further into harmful omissions," he wrote in his journal.

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