Co-worker recalls Colorado movie massacre gunman acting 'spaced out'

By Keith Coffman
James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado in this June 4, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool/Files

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - Lawyers for Colorado movie massacre gunman James Holmes sought on Monday to build their case he was legally insane, calling a former co-worker who remembered him as quiet, antisocial and acting oddly.

Public defenders are seeking to save Holmes' life after the 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to killing 12 people and wounding 70 in the July 2012 shooting rampage.

Prosecutors say he is a methodical mass killer who hid meticulous preparations for the attack on a Denver area movie theater complex. Holmes' lawyers say he suffers from schizophrenia, heard voices in his head commanding him to kill and was not in control of his actions.

Two court-appointed psychiatrists have concluded Holmes was sane when he planned and carried out the attack.

Jose Sanchez worked with the defendant for three or four months from the fall of 2010 at a pill- and capsule-coating factory in San Diego County, California.

Sanchez, a quality control technician, described Holmes as "not social at all," and he said Holmes never had lunch with coworkers, eating alone in his car in the parking lot instead.

Sanchez also recalled once finding the defendant acting strangely at his laboratory work station.

"As I opened the curtains I saw him staring at the wall ... he looked spaced out. He was taking notes, but he was kind of looking at the wall like somebody was talking to him," Sanchez said.

He asked Holmes if he was OK but got no response.

"He kind of had like a smirk on his face, and he was kind of like laughing or smiling," Sanchez told the jury.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Rich Orman noted Sanchez never socialized with Holmes and last saw him some 18 months before the massacre.

The court also heard on Monday from three psychiatrists who saw Holmes at a Denver hospital where he was taken from jail in mid-November 2012, almost four months after the massacre. They are not the court-appointed psychiatrists who concluded Holmes was sane at the time of the attack.

Psychiatrist Rachel Davis told jurors the defendant repeated nonsense phrases and smeared feces, and his behavior seemed psychotic. He was frequently held in restraints.

On cross-examination, District Attorney George Brauchler asked another of the psychiatrists, Philippe Weintraub, whether a traumatic event, such as committing a mass shooting, could cause a psychotic breakdown.

Weintraub said he did not know.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; writing by Daniel Wallis, editing by G Crosse and Cynthia Osterman)