(CBS News) James Holmes was seen by at least three different mental health professionals from the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus during his time as a neuroscience Ph.D. student, even while investigators believe he began the initial planning to carry out the massacre that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
How long he met with each one and the depth of their involvement is unclear, but the new revelations shed more light on the level of the university’s awareness and involvement with Holmes’ mental state, and raises questions about what further action might have been taken.
Court papers previously filed by defense attorneys for Holmes disclosed that prior to withdrawing from the school, he was a psychiatric patient of Dr. Lynne Fenton, a school assistant professor and psychiatrist. Fenton, sources say, became concerned enough to notify campus police about Holmes, and his name was brought to the attention of the university’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team, or BETA for short. What was done with the information from there remains in question.
Colorado law says therapists will not be held liable for failing to warn authorities about a patient’s behavior, except when the patient makes a serious threat of imminent physical violence against a specific person. The law also provides for therapists to place patients on a 72-hour involuntary hold if an individual “appears to have a mental illness and, as a result of the mental illness, appears to be an imminent danger to others or to himself or herself or appears to be gravely disabled,” a difficult requirement to satisfy because beds at mental health care facilities tend to be at a premium.
When contacted by CBS News regarding the interaction of mental health professionals with James Holmes, school spokesperson Jacque Montgomery declined comment citing a judge’s gag order.
Days after the shooting, a package from Holmes arrived on campus addressed to Fenton. The package reportedly contained a notebook with notes from Holmes and crude sketches of a gunman shooting at victims.
“The question, what did the university know, and when did they know it, is still the untold part of this story,” said an official who has been briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official said Holmes’ statements to university officials as well as their notes and reports will raise questions about whether more could have been done before the shooting. The very records that could give more insight into that question are the subject of a pre-trial tug of war between Holmes’ lawyers, the judge and prosecutors. Some of those issues may be argued in court Thursday.
The defense is claiming that a notebook that Holmes sent to Fenton should not be turned over to prosecutors because it is covered by doctor-patient privilege. The notebook was examined by bomb technicians and hazmat specialists who opened the package from Holmes when it was discovered in the university’s mailroom days after the shooting.
Prosecutors say they have not examined the notebook’s contents. The judge has not ruled on whether the notebook will be shared with investigators.
On Thursday, the court will also address the defense motion to keep other University of Colorado records on Holmes from the prosecution. Last Thursday, a university representative handed the judge two manila envelopes, each containing 100 pages of documents. No medical records were included.
Judge William Sylvester wanted to examine the records himself to make a ruling on whether prosecutors were legally entitled to them, but Holmes’ lawyers objected and have until Monday to submit legal briefs in support of withholding the university’s records on Holmes from police and prosecutors.