By Dr. Lawana R. Lofton, PsyD –
What was James Eagan Holmes’ Mental Health Status on the day of the crime July 20, 2012?
The answer to one single question will determine the bulk of Holmes’ whole case, and ability to prevail with verdicts either Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, Guilty but Holmes is deemed to be Mentally Ill, or he can be found Guilty and all his actions are evaluated to be homicidal with no mediating Mental Health factors.
How does this impact the State’s ability to apply the Death Penalty? Inmates who are insane, are exempt from execution. Inmates who are Mentally Ill, but not insane, have no such exemption.
In a court hearing held April 1, 2013, prosecutors stated their office would seek the death penalty. This case will likely go to trial without accepting a plea deal from Holmes‘ attorneys. The trial date is now tentatively scheduled to commence February 2014.
Initially, Holmes’ attorney presented an offer for Holmes to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, yet prosecutors publicly rejected this stating it was not a valid plea bargain offer. According to Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler “ …….the defense proposal wasn’t a valid plea bargain offer, although they could still agree to a plea before the case goes to trial. It’s my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes justice is death. “
Now that these formal hurdles have been documented, the next question seeking a concrete answer is what was James Eagan Holmes’ Mental Health Status on the day of the crime July 20, 2012?
Not only the question as to rather he was sane at the time the crime was committed, but if Holmes may have a Mental Illness which contributed to the crimes committed. Both answers will be crucial regarding his defense and punishment the prosecutor is seeking.
Holmes’ attorneys are expected to argue he is not guilty because he was legally insane at the time of the shooting. Commonly referred to then as the “Dark Knight Rises Movie Massacre” killing 12, and wounding several dozen.
Holmes’ attorneys may enter an insanity plea and present evidence to substantiate Holmes’ Mental Health Status on the day of the crime July 20, 2012, yet even if these efforts are herculean in force by the attorney, they may prove inconsequential as the bar is pretty high to meet a legal insanity defense. Given the full scope of what the definition is to be found “Legally Insane“ may be difficult to prove.
What is the definition of Legal Insanity?
To prove that an individual committed a crime by a Reason of Insanity Defense, the Lawyer must prove a defendant was, at the actual time the crime was committed, was so impaired by a mental disease or defect that they did not know the nature or quality of the act, or, if the defendant did know the nature or quality of the act, they did not know the act was wrong.
What is the definition of Diminished Capacity?
A plea of Diminished Capacity is different from a plea of insanity in that “Reason of Insanity” is a full defense while “Diminished Capacity” is merely a plea to a lesser crime. Either way, his [past] Psychiatric care may factor into the legal defense, but not be sufficient enough to excuse his actions at the time of the crime.
What we know so far regarding James Eagan Holmes Mental Health History:
1. Based on public records, James Eagan Holmes was receiving Psychiatric care from Dr. Lynne Fenton, MD.
Despite the Judge in the case implementing a gag order to not disclose any specifics of the case to media or law enforcement, reports surfaced University of Colorado Psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton, Medical Director of the school’s Student Mental Health Services, had been providing Mental Health outpatient treatment to James Holmes. Although the extent of treatment provided and severity of disorder treated, were not disclosed in the “unauthorized leak.” Reports indicated that Holmes was “the patient” of the Psychiatrist.
It was also discovered Dr. Fenton consulted with university staff regarding her concerns Holmes may pose a threat to others but there was no identified specific threat to execute a Tarasoff Report and/or involuntary hospitalization.
2. Evidence of Pre-Mediated Homicidal Behavior.
Law Enforcement Investigators are reporting Holmes methodically stockpiled weapons and ammunition for his assault on a packed midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and booby-trapped his apartment to explode and distract any police who responded.
To evaluate current public documents, I suspect James Eagan Holmes will not meet the legal definition to plea a insanity defense even if he has a history of Mental Illness, or was receiving Psychiatric treatment surrounding the time of the crimes.
Partly due to his level of intent to commit the crimes, calculated planning over a period of time, pre-planning and the execution to rig his residence with explosives so it would potentially harm first responders, the suspects competence level, and his understanding of consequences for his actions expressed after arrest.
Reportedly, shortly after arrest, Holmes ask for a Lawyer implying [as it is viewed in the legal system] a basic understanding of the legal system as well as a basic understanding of the consequences of his actions; because what he had just done was illegal and would require legal representation to defend in a court of law.
This is viewed as knowing right from wrong and if one were to ask for a Lawyer it implies one needs a defense against a wrongful crime committed. This bit of behavior taken by Holmes, even if he is deemed to have a Mental Illness, will have high significant impact on proving Holmes was not insane at the time the crimes were committed.
Likely scenarios to result in this case are James Eagan Holmes will be either found 1) Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity and would qualify for life in prison with no parole, and no death penalty. 2) Guilty but Holmes is deemed to be Mentally Ill. In which case Holmes could serve an indefinite sentence in a Psychiatric Hospital receiving treatment with no chance of parole, no death penalty. Or, 3) Holmes can be found Guilty of all actions evaluated to be wholly homicidal in nature with no mediating Mental Health factors and eligible for the death penalty; along with years of subsequent appeals to delay an execution.
Until Next Time: a’ Donf
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Forensic Psychology, Psychiatry, Mental Health Status Evaluation, The M’Naughton Rule, Legal Insanity Defense, Diminished Capacity, Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Execution, Department of Justice, Department of Corrections, Capital Punishment Statistics, Supreme Court, Crime, Law and Order, Trial, Prosecutor, Defense, James Eagan Holmes, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.