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Movie theater gunman James Holmes said, 'I knew it was legally wrong,' during sanity evaluation

Posted at 5:08 PM, Jun 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-02 08:07:34-04

In his own words, the gunman who killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a crowded Aurora movie theater expressed that he knew the shooting was "legally wrong."

The revelation, which speaks directly to the heart of the prosecution's case, came during another segment of the video-recorded sanity examination with Dr. William Reid.

Reid asked: "Was there anything about 'the mission' that said it was a wrong thing to do?"

"Um, not sure," said James Holmes, who was subjected to the examination because of his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

"It seems like a pretty simple question," the psychiatrist pushes after a pause.

"Uh, well, I knew it was legally wrong -- that you get punished for killing people," the gunman replied.

Reid was the second state-appointed psychiatrist assigned to evaluate the shooter. District Attorney George Brauchler said during his opening statement that the two doctors disagreed on their diagnosis, but agreed that the defendant was legally sane.

Brauchler is pursuing the death penalty in this case, but first needs to convince the jury that the defendant was capable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the alleged crime -- which is called a "culpable mental state."

"It's not about who did the shooting, it's not about how much people have suffered, it's about whether James Holmes knew the difference between right and wrong at the time he was in the theater doing these horrendous things," 7NEWS legal analyst Dan Recht explained in an April interview.

In this section of the video of Reid's examination, the psychiatrist's questions followed up on the gunman's previous statements. He used the word "mission," for example, to describe the murderous plan because that is the word Holmes had used previously during the examination.  

Reid also asked questions that related back to the warped world view that Holmes' expressed in the notebook he mailed to Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who briefly treated him during his time at the University of Colorado -- Anschutz.

Specifically, Reid asked what went through the shooter's mind when he was in court and found out the numbers of people he'd killed and wounded.

"Just that I was worth 12 more people than I was before," he replied.

Reid also followed up on the gunman's previous statement about having regrets, asking for specifics about what things he regretted.

"Rather than the bullets just missing them or something," came the reply.

The doctor again pushed for more, asking if he really believed there was a chance he'd miss people.

"It is statistical," the gunman answered. "If you shoot enough bullets into a crowd, you're going to hit somebody."

A few questions later, Reid asked if the gunman believed injuries couldn't be avoided.

"It couldn't be avoided because I was basically shooting blind into this crowd," he said.

The shooter later added, "I didn't know a way to make it impersonal and still be able to kill them."

When asked how he felt about the victims, the shooter replied, "I don't know them. But they're going to make me know them though."

"At the trial?"

"Yeah."