Penn Expert “Star Witness” in Colorado Theater Shooting Trial
The director of Penn’s Schizophrenia Research Center has emerged as a “star witness” in the trial of James Holmes, the lone suspect in the 2012 Colorado theater shooting that killed 12 people.
Raquel Gur, professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicinek, testified Tuesday that Holmes’ intellectual functioning matched that of the suspect in another case she followed closely — that of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. She spent 28 hours with Holmes during the course of six interviews.
“Do you have an opinion, as to whether but for this psychotic illness, there would have been a shooting at all?” a defense attorney asked.
“I agree. There would not have been a shooting at all,” she responded.
Gur’s testimony could save Holmes’ life.
“Gur is the star witness for the defense team, and her testimony is crucial to the argument that Holmes should be found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed indefinitely to the state hospital,” AP reports. “Prosecutors say he was sane and are seeking the death penalty. District Attorney George Brauchler immediately launched an aggressive attack on Gur’s credibility, questioning the accuracy of the notes she took on her meetings with Holmes and suggesting she came to a hasty conclusion about his mental illness and sanity.”
Gur said she began to write up her conclusions after just 13 hours of interviews. And she admitted that she had no forensic training — and in fact is not board-certified in psychology. Gur was admitted as an expert witness because of her extensive clinical experience; she’s been on faculty at Penn since 1975.
She described her interview with Holmes in detail:
“He said repeatedly, throughout the sessions, that he believed the world is coming to an end. I explored with him, ‘Is it going to be like a meteor… that is going to hit the planet or anything like that?’ And he said this was not how he [expected] the world to come to an end,” she said.
“Everybody is going to die anyway. The way I feel, that there is no purpose in life … and I’m going to put them out of their misery. Life is miserable for everybody,” she paraphrased the gunman as saying.
“When I told him, ‘Do you think all people feel like you? People enjoy life. People want to live.’ His response was like … wide-eyed,” Gur said.
The trial continues today.