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Defense: Aurora Theater Shooting Suspect Is Mentally Ill

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Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes appeared in court for a hearing in August 2012. (credit: Bill Robles/Sketch Artist)

Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes appeared in court for a hearing in August 2012. (credit: Bill Robles/Sketch Artist)

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4)- Defense attorneys for man accused of opening fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora last month claim he is mentally ill.

Attorneys for James Holmes made the statements in court at the Arapahoe County Justice Center on Thursday. It was the first time they hinted at what argument they may pursue during the trial.

Defense attorneys told the judge they haven’t had time to assess the nature or depth of Holmes’ mental illness and that the release of information would be harmful to their case.

The suspect appeared in court for a hearing on whether to lift the gag order and unseal court documents that would allow the public to know certain details of the investigation before they are presented in court.

The hearing addressed a motion filed on behalf of the media.

Some of those documents include police investigation documents, arrest affidavits and search warrants surrounding the investigation of Holmes.

Holmes was present for Thursday’s hearing. He appeared much as he did in his first court appearance, dazed at times and seemingly preoccupied.

“He looked a lot smaller without all of his body armor on, like the way I keep seeing him in my head; scrawnier,” said shooting victim Chris Townson.

“What mental illness? You can’t be too crazy to have done something like he did, obviously he executed his plan very well and got what he wanted,” said shooting victim Carly Richards.

The judge refused to issue a decision from the bench. There is no timeline on when the judge will hand down a decision on the gag order.

Thirty-five minutes into the hearing, a woman with a shaved head wearing a red dress and holding a spool of blue ribbon stood up and began shouting out from the back of the courtroom that she had information “vital” to the defense’s case.

Before being escorted out of the courtroom by two deputies, the judge asked her name, she identified herself as Allison Michelle Ernst (correct spelling unknown). Holmes didn’t look over at her or seem to notice.

Defense attorney and former prosecutor Karen Steinhouser, an expert not involved with the Holmes’ case, believes that while the information is of great interest to the public, it may be too soon in the investigation process to release any details.

“I could see the court saying let’s give it another month, let’s give it some time. I think what we keep forgetting even though so much has gone on, we’re talking about a case that occurred less than a month ago. This is going to be a long process so I could see the court saying, ‘I’ll reconsider unsealing documents but right now there is still more investigation that I’m hearing needs to be done,” said Steinhouser.

During the hearing attorneys for Holmes claimed their client was mentally ill. The next hearing regarding Holmes is scheduled for August 16.

“He wants attention. This is going to play out for a long time. It’s just what he wants,” said Townson.

The apartment where Holmes was living at the time, located at 1690 Paris Street #10, is in the process of evicting him. The apartment manager said he had violated his lease agreement by setting up booby traps in the apartment.

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