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Alleged Colorado Shooter Saw Schizophrenia Expert

July 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Lawyers defending alleged shooter James Holmes stated Holmes sent a notebook with violent drawings of a mass killing to Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist and schizophrenia expert, who met with Holmes in weeks prior to the shootings. Margaret Warner talks to Washington Post's Carol Leonnig about how mental health will affect the case.
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MARGARET WARNER: And we turn to new information about the suspected shooter in the Aurora, Colo., theater rampage one week ago.

A dozen people died, and 58 more were injured. Today, court records disclosed that the alleged gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes, was seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado in the weeks before the shooting.

Carol Leonnig is covering this for The Washington Post, and I spoke with her a short time ago.

Carol, thank you so much for joining us.

Tell us about this new information that you have been reporting on late this afternoon.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post: Well, it’s really riveting.

Essentially, it shows that James Holmes, the lead and only suspect in this shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo., was seeing a psychotherapist or psychiatrist in his university where he was a graduate student. She was a very senior psychotherapy director, basically the medical director for the outpatient clinic for mental health treatment for students.

And she was seeing him for some time before this tragic event.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there any information — first of all, how did this information come out?

CAROL LEONNIG: This information comes to us — though we had been working on a lead about this exact piece of information and had been asking the university for a few days about it, it came to light and was confirmed not by the university, but by a motion in a court record, in which the public defender, who is representing James Holmes in this case, argued that the information about his connection, Holmes’ connection to a psychotherapist was leaked to the media this week.

You may remember that there was a lot of media attention to a notebook that was seized by police in this investigation at an outpatient facility at the university. The attention to it was so dramatic because it was a notebook that was supposed to foreshadow this attack and that Holmes had allegedly sent to a psychotherapist.

MARGARET WARNER: So, now tell me what is known about this psychotherapist. Is there anything in the court records that say what he was being treated for, how often he saw her, anything like that?

CAROL LEONNIG: There is nothing in the record to tell us what it was for and why, except for the obvious.

If you go see a psychiatrist, you are going to see somebody for counseling, but also someone who is different than a general counselor because they can give you serious medication for your mental health problems.

The other indication about what this could have been is the specialty of the clinician who was seeing James Holmes.

Lynne Fenton is the doctor in the case. Her specialty and what she has been mostly researching is schizophrenia. She has also done some lectures and some presentations on bipolar disorders and borderline personalities.

But, again, most of her current research is on schizophrenia. She treats — according to the websites for the center, she treats about 15 to 20 graduate students in her psychiatric practice.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, go back to the notebook, because, as you said, there have been a lot of unconfirmed reports about it. What have you been able to determine from your own reporting was in the notebook, and what happened to it? Who was it mailed to, and did anyone at the university actually see it before the shooting?

CAROL LEONNIG: OK.

This is a bit fuzzy, but our information right now from various sources is that this notebook is for real. And the court records also now confirm that. It was sent from Holmes to somebody in building 500. It’s our understanding that is Lynne Fenton, the psychiatrist he was seeing.

My information from two different sources is that this document had information in it that could have provided a hint of the attack to come. As you probably know, other media have reported that this notebook contained scary drawings of stick figures who were carrying guns and attacking and mowing down other stick figures with weapons, which is kind of haunting based on the attack that actually took place in the Aurora movie theater in which allegedly James Holmes mowed down 70 people in a sold-out Batman showing of a film.

MARGARET WARNER: And what about any — whether anybody actually looked at it, because there have been questions about that?

CAROL LEONNIG: Yes, absolutely, excellent question, Margaret.

No. To our knowledge right now, it doesn’t appear that anyone opened this package. The university says it was delivered to their mailroom on Monday, meaning they — literally it was seized within hours of being delivered.

Other reports say that it was delivered a week prior and sat there unopened. That is in dispute. But our information, it was never opened. The only issue is how long was it sitting there before police grabbed it and then somebody on the investigative team looked through it and started to wonder if it this was a foreshadowing of the event.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, before we go, what is expected at the court hearing Monday?

CAROL LEONNIG: Monday is the hearing that was previously scheduled before all this hubbub for Holmes to face the actual charges. Is he charged with murder one, murder two, assault with intent to kill? What are the charges?

Now, Judge Sylvester in this case has decided to hear the arguments from his defense and from the prosecution about this issue of the leaked information about the psychiatrist and the notebook.

MARGARET WARNER: But this will not be televised?

CAROL LEONNIG: No, it won’t.

And what is interesting about the judge in this case is, he has issued a gag order to the parties very early on saying don’t discuss this pending case, criminal case.

But this week, he also clamped down further and said that the Colorado university was compelled by him not to release any open records to the media about James Holmes, even though the open records law in Colorado would have naturally allowed the release of some of these records.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Carol Leonnig from The Washington Post, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

CAROL LEONNIG: Thank you, Margaret.