(Reuters) - Accused Colorado gunman James Holmes had conversations with a classmate in March about wanting to kill people, four months before the suburban Denver rampage in which he is accused of shooting dead 12 moviegoers, a court document showed on Friday.
“Evidence gathered so far indicates ... the defendant had conversations with a classmate about wanting to kill people in March 2012, and that he would do so when his life was over,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student, is accused of opening fire on July 20 at a midnight screening of the recent Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora. In addition to those who died, 58 people were wounded in the attack.
The new document builds on a picture that prosecutors have painted in court of Holmes as a young man whose once promising academic career was in tatters as he failed graduate school oral board exams in June and one of his professors suggested he may not have been a good fit for the competitive Ph.D. program.
“Most murderers are angry about something, and anger is different from insanity. Prosecutors seem to suggest that Holmes pondered how to retaliate against the people who did him wrong,” said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor now in private practice who has been following the case.
But he added that such a line of argument won’t be easy, as the defense would argue that, if he was angry with professors at the university, Holmes had no obvious reason to retaliate against strangers at the midnight premiere of a popular film.
“The defense might eventually argue that Holmes had some sort of psychological breakdown because of his problems at school,” Silverman said, noting his legal team had no real options besides an insanity defense.
Prosecutors told the court on Thursday in a hearing on whether they can have access to his university records that Holmes had been “making threats and those threats were reported to police.”
In the newly published court document, prosecutors added that Holmes lost his access to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus after making unspecified threats to a professor on June 12, after which he began a voluntary withdrawal from his program.
They said Holmes, 24, began “a detailed and complex plan” to commit murder and obtain an arsenal of guns and protective armor after he was denied access to the campus.
University spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery has said that Holmes was not banned from the campus, but that withdrawing students typically have their access badges deactivated, effectively denying them entry to facilities such as laboratories.
Holmes’ attorney Daniel King has said his client suffers from an unspecified mental illness and had tried to get help before the shooting. In court, Holmes has appeared calm and alert, with dyed red hair fading to pink and orange and the beginnings of a beard on his face.
Local media have reported he saw at least three campus mental health professionals before leaving the program, and court papers filed by defense attorneys in July said Holmes had been a patient of the medical director for student mental health services on campus, Dr. Lynne Fenton.
Previous media reports have said Fenton reported her concerns about Holmes to a campus threat assessment team and a campus police officer.
Holmes, charged with 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder, is being held without bond in solitary confinement at the Arapahoe County jail. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty.
Reporting by Mary Slosson; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Vicki Allen and Andrew Hay